When it comes to immigration reform, there seem to be two distinct periods — before the election and after the election. Before the election, the question was “if.” Now it seems many Latino leaders are saying it’s a matter of “when.” And judging from the number of legislators — Latinos and non-Latinos, Republicans and Democrats — who are putting some form of immigration reform proposals on the table, the question is whether the plethora of proposals will inevitably lead to reform.
Yesterday the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, composed of Latino Democrats, announced a nine-point immigration reform plan they hope leads to serious negotiations by both parties. At the same time, Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart announced on November 16th he “has restarted the process of moving a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress as soon as possible,” and said he has been meeting with his colleagues from both parties. “For too long parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue — I am committed to passing legislation to once and for all fix our broken immigration system,” Diaz-Balart stated. Tomorrow the Florida Latino Republican will join other colleagues, including Latina congresswoman Jaime Herrera Butler, from Washington state, and vote in favor of the STEM Jobs Act, which proposes to increase the number of immigrant visas for qualified immigrants with a doctorate degree in STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), as well as for their spouses and children.
And a few days ago, Senators Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchinson put forward legislation known as the “Achieve Act,” which allows Dreamers who qualify a chance to have legal status, not citizenship, through work and education visas. Though the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other immigration reform activists say Dreamer legislation without a path to citizenship are not sufficient, most immigration reform advocates say it is a start. A few weeks ago, former Juntos con Romney campaign co-chair Carlos Gutierrez announced the formation of a super PAC to bolster and finance Republican candidates who advocate for immigration reform.
So the question is this. Will “all roads lead to Rome” when it comes to immigration reform?
“It’s clear that the result of the last election created a more favorable environment for immigration reform than we’ve seen in the last five years,” says Dr. Gary Segura, a Stanford University political scientist and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions. “I am less confident, however, that the forces within the Republican party who are anxious or desperate to stop immigration reform will be sufficiently silenced that it will actually proceed,” he adds.
Segura wrote a post recapping the polling of Latino voters about immigration matters. It is interesting to note that while the large majority of Hispanic voters (75 percent) favor a path to citizenship, Latino attitudes about the path required to become a citizenship are a far cry from what some Republican candidates have characterized as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants when discussing the prospect of reform. For example, 89 percent of Latinos polled favor having to learn English as a requirement to citizenship, and 84 percent agree to a background check and paying of old taxes.
“Latinos want those pursuing citizenship to be held to some level of accountability, and they are not advocating a free pass,” says Segura.
It will still be hard, however, to convince conservatives in the Republican party, says Joshua Treviño, a Latino conservative who writes for Texas Monthly.
“One thing is for sure, there is a lot of heat and noise, and there is movement; but we are a long way off from immigration reform,” says Treviño. While he says it helps to have conservative Latino politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio involved, “a non-Latino movement conservative leader from a place like Alabama is probably worth more in convincing conservatives in Congress than a Republican Hispanic,” says Treviño.
Texas Democratic party chair Gilberto Hinojosa told Huffington Post’s Elise Foley recently he did not think immigration reform would happen anytime soon. “The House of Representatives won’t be any more moderate than it is now. They’re the ones who are going throw a monkey wrench in this whole process,” Hinojosa said.
In the meantime, many Latino legislators have stated it’s full steam ahead when it comes to reform. Yesterday Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez said it’s time to “make history” and enact legislation reform in the next Congress.
In polls, the majority of Latino and non-Latino voters favor a path to immigration reform. In the meantime, the proposals and counter proposals remind some of us of the “one step forward, one step back,” Spanish song expression — “un pasito a’lante, y otro para atrás.”