Center for American Progress

Seven Reasons to Push for Immigration Reform this Year

Seven Reasons to Push for Immigration Reform this Year

Americans want their leaders to step up and solve tough problems, and immigration reform provides a perfect opportunity to deliver, write Gebe Martinez and Marshall Fitz.

A woman holds her son at an immigration rally on October 13, 2009. Immigration reform has been, is now, and always will be a bipartisan issue, and we need real leadership. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
A woman holds her son at an immigration rally on October 13, 2009. Immigration reform has been, is now, and always will be a bipartisan issue, and we need real leadership. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The predictable hand-wringing and back-slapping has begun. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory by Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election, some Democratic pundits have bemoaned and Republican talkers rejoiced the supposed demise of President Barack Obama’s policy agenda.

This misguided rush to judgment assumes that all of the president’s policy priorities carry a 60-Democrat threshold. Not only is that a dubious assumption for a number of issues, it is flat wrong when it comes to a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system.

Immigration reform has been, is now, and always will be a bipartisan issue. It engenders support from both sides of the political aisle because serious lawmakers know that our broken system continues to get in the way of other pressing priorities, that a practical solution is at hand, and that it is in both parties’ interest to get this issue off the table.

The immigration overhaul that passed the Senate in 2006 garnered 23 Republican votes, and the bill that failed in 2007 had 12 Republican Senators on board. During the 2008 presidential campaign, comprehensive immigration legislation was the one issue that candidates Obama and John McCain both agreed needed to be accomplished by the next president.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle who are concerned about securing the borders and growing our economy will continue to push for immigration reform this year. Here are seven reasons why:

  • The American public wants its leaders to quit playing politics and to step up and solve tough problems. Immigration reform provides a perfect opportunity to deliver.
  • Support for comprehensive immigration reform is broad, deep, and bipartisan. Polls conducted by Benenson Strategy Group in June and December 2009 showed that two-thirds of voters supported comprehensive immigration reform, including 69 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents, and 62 percent of Republicans. And these numbers jump even higher to 87 percent when the proposal is explained—support for strengthening the border, cracking down on lawbreaking employers, and requiring undocumented immigrants to register, pay taxes, and earn citizenship.
  • The American public wants realistic solutions on immigration. More than two-third of respondents chose registration over deportation in the Benenson Strategy Group survey, which is completely consistent with sustained public opinion research over the last several years. The survey gave respondents a choice between deporting undocumented immigrants because they are “taking jobs” and requiring undocumented immigrants to become legal taxpayers.
  • Fixing our immigration system will promote economic growth and stability. Americans are focused on pulling ourselves out of this economic crisis, and measures that distract from that objective will not succeed. Immigration reform, however, will add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to the GDP over 10 years by lifting the wage floor for all workers.
  • Voters will not support politicians who fail to deliver on their promises. President Obama and other congressional leaders have vowed to tackle immigration reform this year. Politicians who talk a good game during the campaign season but fail to act when in charge will get punished at the polls by low turnout or anti-incumbent anger.
  • Comprehensive immigration reform is backed by business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities who recognize its importance to keeping our communities productive and safe, ensuring fairness to workers and employers, and upholding family and community values. More than 700 organizations in almost 40 states are mobilized and will hold their leaders accountable.
  • Reform cannot wait. A legislative stalemate means a deteriorating status quo where unscrupulous employers win, communities live in fear, hard working families suffer, and Americans taxpayers get short shrift.

The political danger after Tuesday is not that the need for immigration reform will diminish, but that politicians will believe the misleading punditry and cower in fear of tackling other pressing issues. While just saying “no” might be a convenient political strategy for a few members of Congress, the vast majority of congressional districts are made up of voters who want to see their leaders confront tough problems with practical solutions.

It is time for our leaders to lead. Voters want results and enacting immigration legislation that will enhance our security and boost our economy is a good place to start.

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Marshall Fitz

Senior Fellow