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As President Barack Obama heads to Las Vegas today to make a major speech on “redoubling” White House efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, here are the top 10 reasons why immigration reform is an idea whose time has come.
The momentum for reform
1. Congressional leaders from both parties agree on the principles for reform. Just yesterday the bipartisan “Gang of 8”—a coalition including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL)—in the Senate released strong principles for immigration reform, signaling broad agreement for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. In the House, Rep. John Carter (R-TX) has been leading secret bipartisan negotiations to produce an immigration bill, while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory that he was “cautiously optimistic” on the prospect of reform. Other signs that a bipartisan reform agreement is not far off:
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) designated immigration reform as the chamber’s top legislative priority, and came out in full support of the bipartisan framework.
- Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) indicated that he expected that the committee’s first six months would be dedicated to enacting immigration reform.
- House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called immigration reform a top priority.
- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also came out in favor of passing immigration reform legislation.
2. President Obama has made immigration reform one of his top priorities in his second term. President Obama made immigration a centerpiece of his second Inaugural Address when he told America that, “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.” The president met with congressional leaders in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus twice in the past two weeks and will use his speech today in Las Vegas to officially launch his effort to pass legislation.
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. They join a chorus of Republicans—including House Speaker Boehner, Sen. Rand Paul (R-FL), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and conservative pundit Sean Hannity—who saw the election results and “evolved” on the issue of immigration reform shortly after. As Sen. Rubio put it, “It’s very hard to make the economic argument to people who think you want to deport their grandmother.”
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 migration from 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. As a result, creating a pathway to citizenship for these individuals will not only address the fact that they are deprived of many rights and privileges available to people living in this country, but it will also grow our economy, level the playing field for all workers and employers, and make our communities safer.
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 be an added boost to our economy. In fact, if even half of the currently eligible to naturalize population did so, it would add at least $21 billion to $45 billion over 10 years, and that does not even take into account the additional undocumented immigrants who would become eligible through immigration reform.
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.
Philip E. Wolgin is Immigration Policy Analyst and Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.
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Philip E. Wolgin
Managing Director, Immigration Policy