By: Max Wallace
In recent years, compromise has become a rare sight in Congress. However, while legislators may be reluctant to reach across the aisle to deal with issues such as tax hikes, spending cuts or gun control, it seems that both Democrats and Republicans may be able to reach an agreement on at least one important matter. On Monday a bipartisan group of eight Senators, consisting of such notable members as John McCain, Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio, unveiled a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. The plan has four stated objectives:
- Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently
living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and
tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
- Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of
characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen
- Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft
and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
-Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s
workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
This plan represents a complete overhaul of an immigration system which is currently derided as a crippled and convoluted mess that makes legal entry to the country nigh impossibly difficult. If enacted, such a plan would affect around 11 million undocumented aliens and countless others who are waiting for their turn to be given a chance at the American dream. Previous efforts to reform immigration, such as George Bush’s failed 2007 push, have proved unsuccessful, and though this plan has a long way to go before it becomes law, it may have the best chance of success of any reform effort yet. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey best summed up the support behind the reform plan he helped to design in the following statement, “First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”
The Senator’s words touch on the fact that, quite simply, immigration reform is a political necessity for the Republican Party. As evidenced by the recent presidential election, Republicans can no longer afford to alienate Hispanic voters. In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney managed to attract less than 30% of the Latino vote. Should Republicans continue to oppose establishing a path to citizenship for the many residents of this nation who are here illegally, they will be hard pressed to maintain success in national elections as the Hispanic population of the United States continues to grow and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Although there will undoubtedly be conservative hardliners who will oppose the plan, many Republicans recognize that their political futures are dependent upon their ability to compromise on this issue.
Like their Republican counterparts, Democratic legislators have an interest in delivering reform. Democrats have long campaigned on the promise of reforming immigration, but so far have been unable to deliver on those promises. President Obama in particular promised to enact immigration reform during his first term but his largest accomplishment so far has been an executive order barring the deportation of undocumented aliens who entered the U.S. as children, a far-cry from meaningful and comprehensive reform.
He now finds himself presented with an opportunity to deliver another set of landmark reforms to accompany the healthcare legislation passed during his first term. The president has declared immigration reform his top legislative priority for his second term, and will be sure to rally as much media attention as possible in order to discourage negotiations from stalling.
Perhaps neither party would derive the greatest benefit from passing such legislation, but rather Congress itself. Currently, Congress has a 14% approval rating, with cockroaches and Nickleback proving more popular with the American public than their elected representatives. Merely by displaying that they still possess the ability to compromise, lawmakers can perhaps take a small step towards rehabilitating their tarnished public image. With the capital gearing up to debate Senator Diane Feinstein’s new gun control bill and hold cabinet confirmation hearings for the president’s second term, such an opportunity is unlikely to present itself again in the near future.
To say that immigration reform is long overdue is an understatement, but progress finally appears to be possible, if far from certain. With their political fortunes hanging in the balance, the only rational choice available to legislators is to hammer out an agreement that would help not only their own chances on election day, but the millions of people whose lives are impacted by outdated immigration law.