Obama, Senate immigrating to reform

President Barack Obama met with members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus to discuss his immigration plan days before the Senate unveiled its plan. | Wikimedia Commons

In the political wasteland of a sluggish economy, hyper-partisan bickering among politicians, a contentious election and tragedy, immigration reform found a place on the back burner.

The topic came up during the recent presidential campaign, as it does in every campaign, but since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, very little has been achieved in the way of immigration at the national level. Change may be coming.

A bipartisan group of Senators, dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” has been working to reform and modernize the nation’s broken immigration system.

On CNN Monday, the group released a statement summarizing their plan, which includes modernizing the system to fit the nation’s economic tides, normalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in a “tough, but fair” manner, and strengthening border enforcement and employer verification.

What the eventual bill will actually include is as yet unknown, but it will definitely include a way to deal with undocumented students brought to the U.S. by their parents. It would also likely include a way to attract the best and brightest such students to the United States.

The time is right to pass immigration reform. After years of inaction, both parties have witnessed the power of the Latino vote.

As reported in a Nov. 12 article by Viviana Hurtado of Fox News Latino, 10 percent of the 2012 electorate was Latino, more than double the proportion in 1996. The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, and dismissing that many votes would be foolish for either party. Recently, the Republican party has been less successful courting the Latino vote.

On Nov. 9, CNN’s Cindy Rodriguez reported that former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney garnered only 27 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 elections, the smallest share since former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., managed only 21 percent of the vote in 1996; in 2000, President-elect George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won 31 percent in 2008.

The drop-off in the Latino vote stems from an extremist stance that Republicans voiced bluntly in the primaries. Several comments Mitt Romney made, like coining the term “self-deportation,” and claiming that Arizona’s SB 1070, The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, was a “model for the nation,” were off-putting to many Latino voters.

“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here, because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” Romney said during a Republican presidential debate Jan. 22, 2012 in Florida.

During the primaries, Gov. Rick Perry was attacked for signing Texas’ own “mini-DREAM act” in 2001, which allowed undocumented students brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own to pay in-state tuition.

In an Oct. 1, 2011 article in the Huffington Post, Perry defended his immigration record against criticism from the Romney campaign for being too liberal.

“In Texas, we made the decision that it was in our best interests as a state, economically and otherwise, to have those young people in our institutions of higher learning and becoming educated as part of our skilled workforce,” Perry said.

Friday, President Obama met with representatives from the Hispanic Congressional Caucus Institute, discussing his immigration reform plan, and Tuesday, a day after the “Gang of Eight” released their plan, Obama spoke in Las Vegas to publicly outline his plans.

“Right now, we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; 11 million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows,” Obama said. “Yes, they broke the rules. They crossed the border illegally. Maybe they overstayed their visas. Those are facts. Nobody disputes them. But these 11 million men and women are now here. Many of them have been here for years. And the overwhelming majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re contributing members of the community. They’re looking out for their families. They’re looking out for their neighbors. They’re woven into the fabric of our lives.”

Momentum seems to be building to pass immigration reform this year, but there are still wedge issues, like what to do with those who willingly crossed the border or overstayed their visas, that would guarantee the bills’ failure.

“We will never put these individuals on a path to citizenship until we have fully secured our borders and combated the pattern of people overstaying their legal immigration visas,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced in a press conference on C-Span Monday.

Senators from both parties want to fix the cracks in the system. The President’s plan would be ideal because it is the most inclusive, but it will likely flounder in the House of Representatives.

The worst thing to do now is nothing. The elections showed just how strong the Latino vote could be. In order for the Republican Party to remain viable, they have to do something to attract Latino voters. Fixing this festering issue is one way they can do just that. This is the year for immigration reform.

Alex Caballero is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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