Things are different this time around.
The passion is different, the energy is different and, most of all, America is different. As Congress gets ready to take on what is arguably the most contentious issue in the country, there is no mistaking it: America is ready to create an immigration process that will protect our borders, keep our families safe and together, give our businesses the tools they need to compete in the global economy, and provide a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens currently living in the shadows.
And why are things different? Here’s what’s changed since 2007, the last time an immigration bill was presented to Congress:
1. The Latino Vote
The 2012 presidential election will be remembered not only for the re-election of the first African-American president, but for the power of the Latino vote. To be sure, as Americans, Latinos are concerned about issues other than immigration—including health care, the economy, gun violence, and education. But for them, the broken immigration system is personal. It doesn’t go away with the flick of a television switch. Many Latino voters have a family member or close friend entangled in the web of arcane rules and confusing regulations known as U.S. immigration law. Someone in their life–a parent, a brother, a cousin, a friend– is threatened with deportation.
Last year, President Obama, after presiding over record numbers of deportations during his first term, promised Latino voters that if re-elected he would put immigration reform at the top of his “to do” list. Governor Romney, on the other hand, embraced restrictionists like Kris Kobach and Joe Arpaio, railed against “amnesty” and promised Latinos little more than “self-deportation”.
The lesson of the election: Latinos are a formidable force in American politics and can no longer be ignored.
2. The DREAMERs Are Now Doers
A funny thing happened since the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001. The DREAMERs grew up. And they grew up as Americans, watching football, going to homecoming dances, eating hotdogs on the 4th of July and dreaming about giving back to the country they’ve struggled against all odds to enrich. They are no longer the helpless children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. Today they are, in effect, undocumented Americans.
Through masterful use of 21st century tools like Facebook and Twitter, coupled with old fashioned organizing and courage, the DREAMERs have become a key voice in the struggle for immigration reform. They, more than any other group, deserve the lion’s share of credit for pushing the Administration to grant an administrative deportation reprieve to qualified undocumented youth last year.
And for DREAMERs there is no giving up on their journey toward US citizenship. They will no longer take no for an answer.
3. There Has Been Unprecedented Immigration Enforcement
Unlike in 2007, today the border is secure. A recent report published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the border security benchmarks of the past immigration reform bills have been met or exceeded. These include improvements in border infrastructure and technology, detention facilities, and increased border personnel. In fact illegal crossings are down to their lowest levels in 40 years.
4. Business and Labor Agree on a Guest Worker Program
The fact that business and labor could come to an agreement on a guest worker program — perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the immigration reform debate — means the energy is there, the desire is there, and the need is there for immigration reform this year. And if the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce can find common ground, then Democrats and Republicans in Washington can too.
5. The American Public Supports Immigration Reform
According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll 76% of Americans support creating an immigration process that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million new American immigrants if they pay a fine, back taxes and complete a background check. Most Americans, 54% according to the poll, believe immigration strengthens America—that’s up from 47% a year ago.
So, that’s why we’re here, in this place, at this moment, ready to move forward on immigration reform. The time is now, now is the time.