This year’s Inauguration Day holds special significance for African-Americans. It coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington, and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As President Obama takes the oath of office, today could hold special significance for Latinos as well. The start of Obama’s new term may well mark the first step towards finally achieving immigration reform.
Although the president couldn’t deliver on his promise of comprehensive reform during his first term, the stars may be aligning for it to happen during his second. The White House has a sound strategy already mapped out. The U.S. is meeting its immigration enforcement goals, and prominent Republicans and a majority of voters support a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Now it’s up to Obama to sell lawmakers and the public on his proposal.
Obama’s plan will likely include a guest worker program, employment verification mechanisms, and a path to citizenship for the undocumented. According to The New York Times, the president plans to seek an overhaul of our immigration system in “one fast push.” This ambitious goal is better than a piecemeal approach, which could be dragged out or whittled away. A bold plan will avoid endless negotiations over a series of smaller measures, and show that the president is committed to action.
Overlooking record levels of deportations, conservatives like Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), maintain that the U.S. needs to secure the border before we tackle comprehensive reform. But Obama can make the case that immigration enforcement is at an all-time high. A new report by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute notes that the U.S. spends roughly $18 billion on federal immigration enforcement, more than it spends on all other law enforcement efforts combined. Nearly all of the border security benchmarks set by Republicans during the 2007 immigration debate have been met.
The president can count on public support for his plan. A poll released this month by bipartisan polling groups finds that a majority of Americans support immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found similar results. These findings prove that reform is a politically viable idea.
Consider how circumstances have changed since 2007, when the U.S. last attempted immigration reform. Since then, the Pew Center says that illegal immigration has fallen to “net zero.” Leading Republicans are in favor of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. While there will always be conservatives vehemently opposed to “amnesty,” these days unions, church groups, and business leaders are united in support of comprehensive reform.
Still, the president may face competition from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is working on an immigration plan of his own. While the framework of their proposals is quite similar, Rubio wants undocumented immigrants to “go to the back of the line” before they can apply for citizenship. However, the average wait time for a legal Mexican immigrant is 15 to 20 years. Under Rubio’s plan, undocumented immigrants could possibly wait a couple of decades for citizenship.
President Obama has the better plan, a true mandate, and popular support. He must ride the momentum of the elections, and act swiftly and decisively on immigration.
In 2012, Latinos showed up at the polls in record numbers to make Obama’s dream of a second term a reality. There’s every reason for him to return the favor. It’s time he delivered on his promises – and on our dreams.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.