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Sotomayor’s Nomination Doesn’t Equal Immigration Reform

Pundits Miss the Point but Progress Continues

SOURCE: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has some pundits claiming that immigration reform advocates can rest easy. But it isn't that simple, and progress on the issue is being made while pundits make these short-sighted claims.

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Some pundits argue that Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court should placate those fighting for immigration reform. But what those pundits don’t get is that Latinos are not a single issue constituency and immigration reform is not just for the sake of immigrants—and it certainly isn’t a box on an issue to-do list that gets checked by the nomination of a Latina. What’s more, events from the last two weeks show that pundits and analysts are making these short-sighted claims while the signs of progress on reform are getting clearer and clearer.

President Barack Obama to meet with members of Congress to discuss immigration reform. President Obama, in the spirit of bringing together wide-ranging views to discuss and tackle tough problems, is hosting a June 8 bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members to discuss moving on immigration reform. An administration official explained, “The meeting will be an opportunity to launch a policy conversation that we hope will be able to start a debate that will take place in Congress later in the year.” The road from a White House meeting to a Rose Garden bill-signing ceremony is a long one, but the first step from the administration is a powerful signal of active engagement, and it confirms Obama’s willingness to fulfill his promise to move the debate.

New poll on Latinos sends a clear message on reform: Do it now. A new poll released on May 18 by America’s Voice of Latino voters in 13 states shows that a full 72 percent of respondents think President Obama will keep his campaign promise and introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year. A convincing 83 percent of respondents thought that President Obama “will do the right thing” on immigration, and 69 percent of voters supported President Obama working on both economic recovery and immigration reform in 2009 while only 29 percent thought he should focus on the economic recovery and put off immigration reform until after the midterm elections. The poll also showed that immigration is an intensely personal issue: 82 percent of respondents called the immigration issue personally important (59 percent “very important”) and 69 percent said they personally have an undocumented friend, family member, or other acquaintance.

More bad news for Republicans. The same America’s Voice poll also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) agreed that during the last two years, discrimination against Hispanics had increased because of the negative tone and rhetoric of the immigration debate. Many respondents blamed the Republican Party for encouraging this discrimination. By a 71 percent to 11 percent margin, respondents believed that the Democratic Party best represented the opinion of the Hispanic community on immigration issues. And only 23 percent of respondents thought that Republicans “will do the right thing” on immigration issues while a whopping 60 percent thought Republicans “will not do the right thing” (17 percent don’t know).

Moderate to conservative Democrats are on board, suggesting support for reform from all sides. Tucked into the Pew Research Center for the People and Press “Trends in Core Values 1987 to 2009” report released last week are noteworthy nuggets on the public’s attitude toward immigration reform. The report found that “by nearly two to one (63 percent to 34 percent), most [Americans] favor a way for illegal immigrants in the United States to gain legal citizenship if they meet certain conditions, including passing background checks and paying fines.”

The report also finds that the change in support from Democrats, from 62 percent in 2007 to 73 percent in 2009, has come entirely from the party’s moderates and conservatives. According to the report, “70 percent [of moderate and conservative Democrats] currently support a way to provide citizenship for illegal immigrants under certain conditions, up from 53 percent in December 2007. As in 2007, more liberal Democrats than conservatives and moderates in the party support this idea (82 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007), but the ideological gap among Democrats has narrowed.”

These results echo results of recent CBS/New York Times and ABC/Washington Post polls all suggesting that there is ample appetite among Democrat party members for the White House and congressional leaders to press forward on immigration reform this year.

Police rebuff immigration role and support comprehensive immigration reform. Also last week, police leaders, in a powerful show of unity, gathered in Washington to release a report by the nonpartisan Police Foundation that found immigration enforcement by local police undermines their core public safety mission and exacerbates fear in communities already distrustful of police.

The study, drawing on input from focus groups and police and community representatives, finds that the costs of the 287(g) program—which allows a state and local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions—outweigh the benefits. It also recommended that the program be limited to serious criminal offenders, and that in order to optimize community safety the federal government must enact comprehensive border security and immigration reforms.

New report shows no relationship between immigration and unemployment. Another report by the Immigration Policy Center released on May 19 examined data from the Census Bureau and found there is no relationship between the number of recent immigrants in a particular locale and the unemployment rate among native-born whites, blacks, Latinos, or Asians. The unemployment rates among native-born Americans in cities with higher percentages of immigrants are about the same or even lower than those in places with fewer immigrants. This is not surprising because new immigrants make up only 5.4 percent of the workforce in the country—too small to significantly affect on the overall job market.

Family bill introduced. A key component of immigration reform was introduced in Congress on May 19th by senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) as the Reuniting Families Act. The bill contains practical solutions for reducing family immigrant visa waiting times and promoting the humane and timely reunification of immigrant families. Every year, thousands of visas go unused because of bureaucratic delays, meaning that an average of 20,000 immigrants who should legally receive a visa do not get one. Millions of close family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders are in the family visa backlog due to these delays and a system that has not been updated for more than 20 years. In countries such as Mexico and the Philippines, current wait times may exceed 20 years.

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing zeroes in on border enforcement. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing focused on border enforcement. Chairman Schumer (D-NY), citing reports from the Customs and Border Protection officials that show that the number of people arrested as they tried to cross U.S. borders illegally has dropped, said that “We can pass strong, fair, practical, and effective immigration reform this year.” As Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, said in his testimony, “the current immigration crisis is very much one of our own making, reflecting bad policy choices in the past; but fortunately this means that with better policy choices we have the power resolve the dilemma moving forward.”

The Sotomayor appointment does not “check the box” on what Obama should do for Latinos. But it does show that he understands the Latino community’s importance. That knowledge, combined with his willingness to solve the hard problems our country faces, reaffirms the hope that his administration will not kick this issue down the road. We need immigration reform for our immigrants, but most importantly, we need it for our nation.

Angela Kelley is Vice President for Immigration Policy and Vanessa Cárdenas is Ethnic Media Director at American Progress.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

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