Nothing says immigration reform like resounding political clout wielded by Hispanic voters.
After decades of avoiding serious immigration reform in favor of pitched political fighting, a bipartisan group of senators last week released a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to U.S. citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants and progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire.
Wisely, the Senate agreement tackles the issue with a comprehensive approach, rather than trying to pass smaller pieces of legislation that would invariably produce a lesser outcome.
For Democrats — and most Hispanics — the agreement seeks legislation that will give those here illegally a way to become U.S. citizens. For the GOP, the agreement only allows for that if there is demonstrated progress on better securing the borders and making sure visitors leave when their visas expire.
A serious immigration bill should not have taken this long to craft, but for political reasons it was delayed — and for political reasons it’s now being done.
President Obama and Democrats have always had the benefit of being on the “right side” of immigration reform when it came to the Hispanic vote.
But despite his public support for reform, Obama never really made a concerted push. He seemed content to simply voice support, get the Hispanic vote and watch his GOP opponents twist in the wind for opposing most reform.
And the GOP obliged. Arizona’s anti-Hispanic antics, some prominent GOP leaders calling to take away birthright citizenship and a Southern conservative sheriff who is waging war against illegal immigrants have all helped cement the image of an uncaring and maybe racist Republican party.
Fortunately, there have always been respected GOP leaders trying to lead the party toward reasonable immigration policy, including Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
McCain’s view finally gained dominance thanks to the results of the last elections in which Hispanics rejected the GOP — Hispanics the party believe rightly fit with the GOP’s conservative ideology. At the same time, public opinion has firmly shifted toward immigration reform that includes a path for citizenship along with stronger border security.
The agreement in the Senate doesn’t mean that immigration reform is a done deal. To the contrary, there will be plenty of contention as legislation moves through Congress.
But with the pressure strong for Congress to act, we have our best chance at finally getting comprehensive reform that will make things better for America and for those hoping to come here.