Imagining immigration reform

January 21, 2013 

Most of the nation's many parts — voters, the Supreme Court, lawmakers and the president — all have agreed in one way or another about the value that immigrants bring to the nation.

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday:

Most of the nation's many parts — voters, the Supreme Court, lawmakers and the president — all have agreed in one way or another about the value that immigrants bring to the nation.

What they haven't agreed on is reforming the nation's immigration laws. But they're getting closer.

The sticking point is the thorny problem of what to do about the 11 million or more undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the United States. There are also concerns about the nation's borders and how to secure them.

Before the November election, the subject was off the table. Republican opposition to reform was just too strong. But that has changed since Latino voters sent a huge message to the Republicans that they were tired of the party's anti-immigration stance and then proceeded to give President Barack Obama 71 percent of their vote.

The growing power of the Hispanic vote has given the GOP cause to seek a more practical approach to immigration reform. Republican Party leaders, such as newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Tea Party favorite, see the writing on the wall. And it isn't in English.

“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years, Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state,” Cruz told Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine.

As Cruz noted, the implications of that shift would reach far beyond Texas.

“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House,” he said.

The data support that contention. With New York (which has 29 Electoral College votes) and California (with 55 votes) solidly in the Democratic column for the future, the GOP absolutely must have Texas' 38 electoral votes to reach the 270 necessary to elect a president.

Along with Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is looking for a way to bring sense to immigration reform without distressing many in his party. And Latino leaders in the public sector have warned both parties that they are watching them.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy at the National Council of La Raza, said recently that “Republicans must demonstrate a reasoned approach to start to rebuild their relationship with Latino voters (and) Democrats must demonstrate they can deliver on a promise.”

Obama and Senate Democrats are expected to propose a comprehensive plan for overhauling the system that will include a path to citizenship for most of the undocumented immigrants in the country.

The plan would not wipe the slate clean. It includes financial penalties — such as fines and the payment of back taxes — as well as other steps to obtain legal status.

Rubio came out with a reform plan of his own on Tuesday. Acknowledging that the “immigration issue is a gateway issue for Hispanics,” Rubio said his proposal is a “comprehensive package of bills” to address the problems.”

His plan, which looks an awful lot like the president's, includes more access to legal status for highly skilled workers and a guest worker program for low-skilled workers. Rubio is also on the record in support of workplace enforcement and stronger border security.

Rubio said his plan does not include “blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. He said they would have to apply for legal status and meet the requirements necessary, but that they would not have to return to their home countries to start the process.

The activity surrounding immigration also involves a bipartisan group of senators, inclusing Dick Durbin, D-lll. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who are writing a bill they hope to introduce in March.

When Obama signed the pro-family, pro-jobs executive order in June that incorporated parts of Durbin's DREAM Act (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), some of the president's critics claimed it was a politically motivated move. If so, it worked.

Now that some Republican politicians have seen the reality of what their opposition meant for their political futures, they are no longer moaning about the president's action.

The combination of political practicality, moral responsibility and reality in the shape of 11 million people, has given momentum to making immigration reform a reality. It's time to treat immigrant families with the respect and dignity they deserve, to allow them to continue to strengthen our workplaces and economy and to help them provide better futures for their children.

The truth is, they are here to stay.

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