The message from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) was loud and clear. All undocumented immigrants would have to register with the federal government and submit to background checks, learn English and United States civics, and pay taxes. The group’s announcement this morning of a sweeping, 9-point immigration reform plan — rather than another immigration bill sponsored by a Latino legislator — is the group’s good-faith effort to lay on the table the foundation of bipartisan immigration legislation. But what is also clear, according to Illinois Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez, is that immigration reform has to be one of the first priorities of the new Congress.
“Elections are very useful things,” said congressman Gutierrez. “All of a sudden we are the belle of the ball, and it’s time to start the dance,” he stated.
“A new America spoke out, and the message was clear,” said New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. “They told us the landscape has changed, and the first order of business should be comprehensive immigration reform,” Menendez said.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), says this first point — having undocumented immigrants “come out of the shadows” and integrate themselves into the country, “is the kind of process Americans are looking for; we as a country value the process of integration, and it is that final step that makes immigrants fully vested, and creates the sense that we are all in the same boat,” she adds.
The other points in the immigration reform proposal include a provision to keep families — including same-sex families — together. It seeks to increase the number of investors, innovators and those in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) immigrating to the U.S. It proposes a system to legally bring in foreign workers to fill in labor force gaps, as well as give agricultural workers a route to citizenship. It urges “smart and reasonable” enforcement of both the southern and northern borders, and it calls for a “workable” employer verification system while protecting Americans’ right to work. The proposal also calls for bringing Dreamers into the citizenship process. Lastly, the plan strongly reaffirms the 14th amendment — that any child born in this country, regardless of the parent’s status, is an American.
“This last one, reaffirming the 14th amendment, is what has made everyone in our country an American — out of many, one,” says NCLR’s Martinez de Castro.
Senator Menendez brought up another issue — the economic imperative of immigration reform. “It is in our economic interest that we come to an agreement to bring in people out of the shadows,” he said. Menendez cited the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report that found immigration reform would raise federal revenues by 48 billion in ten years, and another report saying reform would increase the nation’s GDP by 1.5 trillion in a decade.
The question now is whether legislators from both sides of the aisle will be able to hammer out immigration reform, something which has proven elusive in the last few years. Some Latinos are optimistic.
“There is a business imperative — more and more people in the business community are pushing for this,” says NCLR’s Martinez de Castro. “There is also a political imperative, and you heard it from some of the Republican party ranks in the aftermath and the election,” she adds.
“I think elements from the left, right and center are coming together,” Martinez de Castro adds. “It’s the convergence of all these interests that give momentum to get to the finish line, though it will nevertheless be challenging to get there.”