The Gamble On Immigration Reform

Is this Hispanic/Latino vote important to the White House?

Published On: Aug 28 2013 05:11:39 PM EDT

By Corey Saban
Special to THELAW.TV

I never thought the Magic 8 Ball could be relevant to adults, but it sure seems like its wishy-washy answers, such as “it is certain,” “most likely,” or “ask again later” are conducive to our country’s immigration reform debate.

As the 2014 mid-term elections approach, immigration reform will begin to creep back to the top fold of newspapers and TV news blocks. Whether or not Congress and the President actually address the issue by enacting sweeping reforms is another matter entirely.

Both cynics and realists will recall that President Obama (than a candidate) and the Democrats promised the Hispanic/Latino voting constituency, as well as undocumented immigrants, that they would take care of this issue once elected. This promise drove voters to the polls in huge numbers.

During Obama’s first two years in office, the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. Instead of pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, they spent a majority of their political capital on ObamaCare. In the second half of Obama’s first term, and after Democrats lost the House to Republicans, President Obama, through executive order, implemented portions of the Dream Act in what would seem like an attempt to repair his relationship with this important voting bloc.

How important is the Hispanic/Latino vote? 

Currently Hispanics make up 22 percent of Florida’s population; that’s third behind California and Texas. By early next year, Hispanics will be the dominant ethnic group in California, the nation’s most populous state. In addition, the census bureau projects that whites will no longer make up the majority of Americans by 2043.

How do these statistics affect politics? More than seven of every 10 voting Hispanics voted to re-elect President Obama. In addition, nearly 50,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote every single year. A recent poll by Latino Decisions, a firm that conducts research on Latino public opinions, found that 32 percent of Latinos would consider voting Republican if there was immigration reform. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. However, while immigration reform is clearly important to Hispanic/Latino voters, they are not single-issue voters. They too care about our unemployment rate and our economy.

Will progress on immigration reform actually happen? 

Signs point to yes. A bipartisan group of eight senators (four Democrats and four Republicans) are trying to rewrite U.S. immigration law for the first time since 1986. The Senate negotiators include Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Even if this group of eight can agree, they need to sway other members of their parties, which will not be an easy task.

Border Control

Recently, four of these senators were receiving a tour of the Arizona-Mexico border and witnessed a woman scale an 18-foot wall. McCain even tweeted about the incident. It was a reminder that threats to border security are real. In immigration reform, the gang of eight senators wrote that more than $6.5 billion in border security funds would be available, as well as more officers, fencing, and surveillance.

Visas Issued To Foreign Workers

One of the biggest differences between the two parties relates to foreign workers. The Republicans propose a guest worker visa program that would allow workers into the United States on a temporary basis for work purposes and would determine the number of visas issued based on the needs of business.

The President and the Democrats are tied to the unions, who, according to The Wall Street Journal, want to restrict immigration, define what job openings are and what wages will be paid, and create an unwieldy bureaucracy that allegedly will lead to more confusion and more undocumented immigration.

In the current proposal, negotiated by the eight senators, business and labor groups agreed to a future program for low-skilled workers. Titled W visa, the program would eventually allow up to 200,000 immigrants per year to enter the U.S., change jobs, and get on a path of citizenship. The bill also eases restrictions for companies seeking to hire foreign high-skilled technical workers.

Which pathway to citizenship?

Another immigration issue at hand is the pathway to citizenship. Democrats have advocated for a “special” pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while some Republicans have argued for deporting all undocumented immigrants.

The bill will allow approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants, who arrived prior to 2012, to register for a provisional immigrant status. After 10 years, they will be eligible to apply for permanent residence, but must pay back taxes, fees, and fines; pass a background check; meet language requirements; and demonstrate employment. After 13 years, they can apply for naturalized citizenship. Those who meet the standards set by the Dream ACT will be eligible for permanent residents in five years and then citizenship.

The Foreseeable Future

In late June, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the bipartisan immigration reform bill 68-32. The next step is clear. The Republican-controlled House, which is on hold until Congress returns from recess on September 9.

Despite the complexity of the immigration issues, these eight senators have proven that compromise is possible. Yes, other issues remain, such as what to do with border security, children in mixed-legal status families, and convicted criminals; as well as how to improve and best use the E-Verify system and whether to require it for all employment, not just certain Federal employment. But these eight seem to believe the time is ripe for both parties to accomplish a goal rather than stir the pot. Let’s hope the primary provisions are enough and our Magic 8 Ball gives us a favorable reply. We’ll take “without a doubt.”

The author, Corey Saban, is the Vice President of Sales for THELAW.TV and a former, long-time television news reporter who focused his coverage on local, state, and national politics.