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Now’s The Time

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"Now’s The Time"

Let’s Get Immigration Reform Done

We are now closer than we have been in years to achieving common sense immigration reform that will put the 11 MILLION undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

Momentum for reform has been building since the election, when American voters strongly rejected Mitt Romney’s harsh “self-deportation” prescription in favor of President Obama’s forward-thinking call for immigration reform. Not surprisingly, a number of conservative pundits like Sean Hannity “evolved” on immigration just a few days after the election. Since then, a chorus of Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Bill O’Reilly have come out in support of reforms for our broken immigration system.

The president addressed the issue in his Second Inaugural Address last week:

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity — (applause) — until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”  (Applause.)

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators — Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Menendez (R-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — issued a set of principles for immigration reform including a broad agreement on the need to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our nation. The four basic principles are:

  • A pathway to citizenship, contingent on continued enforcement and border security
  • An overhaul of the legal immigration system
  • Enhanced employment verification
  • Improved process for admitting future workers

The Senate’s principles provide a strong foundation on which to build common-sense immigration policy, but ultimately we would like to see legislation that, for example, ensures that all families, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to remain together.

Today, President Obama traveled to Las Vegas, NV to issue his call to action on immigration reform:

“I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long.  I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.  Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.”

As the president also noted, there is no need for Congress to dawdle. A bipartisan group in the Senate is already at work (as is one in the House). And just today, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced their first hearing on the issue.  Everyone knows what we need to do and how we can accomplish it. Sí se puede, as the president’s audience chanted today.

Our Center for American Progress colleagues outlined ten reasons why the time for comprehensive immigration reform is now:

The momentum for reform

1. Congressional leaders from both parties agree on the principles for reform.

2. President Obama has made immigration reform one of his top priorities in his second term.

3. The American people strongly support reform. Polls have shown that the American people want Congress to provide a sensible solution to our nation’s broken immigration system, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. In particular, a new Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies poll found that close to three-quarters of all Americans—an overwhelming majority—support a pathway to citizenship.

The politics of reform

4. The November 6 election was a game-changer. President Obama won re-election with a stunning 71 percent of Latino voters and 73 percent of Asian American voters. As the polling firm Latino Decisions pointed out, Latino votes more than made up the margin of victory for the president, and the final tally may indicate even wider margins of support. These voters rejected the harsh immigration platform and rhetoric of 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and vastly supported the policies of President Obama, including his opposition to state anti-immigration measures such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and his deferred action program, which allows young aspiring Americans to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

5. Demographics are changing in the United States. The November election was also critical in signaling the new demographic reality in the United States: Latino and other voters of color are growing as a proportion of the overall population, making their votes all the more critical in future elections. Latino voters comprised 9.5 percent of the electorate in 2008 and a full 11 percent in 2012. These shifting demographics—especially in key swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia—mean that how each party talks about immigration will only be more important in the future.

6. An ever-growing chorus of Republicans has come out in favor of reform. In the past few days alone, Republican heavyweights such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have written op-eds on the need for immigration reform, while Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly praised Sen. Rubio’s plan.

The policy of reform

7. Our border is more secure than ever, and we’ve met our border benchmarks.Much of the debate in 2007—the previous time that comprehensive immigration reform was on the table in Congress—revolved around securing the U.S.-Mexico border. But in the past six years, the United States has made great strides in border security, meeting or surpassing all of the security benchmarks written into the 2007 legislation: Our southern border is now safer than ever; more boots are on the ground; and there are greater resources to track, detain, and punish unauthorized border crossers. Indeed, net migrationfrom Mexico—the number of people entering minus the number of people leaving—which is one of the main sending countries for undocumented immigrants, is now at or below zero.

8. Lack of reform is hindering a range of other policy priorities. The fact that 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the shadows has become a political and policy obstacle to addressing other issues such as fixing our nation’s health care system, educating the future workforce, and identifying who among us are hard-working family members versus those who are here to do us harm.

9. Immigration reform is an economic imperative. Passing a comprehensive immigration reform plan would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. cumulative gross domestic product over 10 years and would add between $4.5 billion and $5.4 billion in tax revenue over the first three years. Simply put, allowing all people to work on a level playing field would improve wages for natives and newcomers alike. And higher wages means better jobs and increased spending, helping the economy as a whole.

10. We must provide a direct path to citizenship. Naturalized citizens earn higher wages than legal permanent residents (green card holders), so providing a direct pathway to citizenship would boost our economy, adding at least $21 billion to $45 billion over 10 years.

BOTTOM LINE: The question is no longer whether immigration is the right thing to do economically, morally, or for the country as a whole, nor is it a question of whether the American people support it. The question now is whether Congress can put aside its partisan differences and act on the will of the people.