Immigration ‘Ride Isn’t Over Yet’

Ali Noorani says demographic realities galvanize business, law-enforcement, and religious leaders.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum
National Journal
Ali Noorani
Oct. 17, 2013, 2 a.m.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes.

Twelve months ago, im­mig­ra­tion re­form was con­spicu­ously ab­sent from policy con­ver­sa­tions in Con­gress. In the year since, thanks in great part to a chan­ging Amer­ica, the Sen­ate has passed a broad im­mig­ra­tion-re­form bill in strongly bi­par­tis­an fash­ion, and House lead­ers in both parties re­cog­nize they must take ac­tion.

Yes, right now Con­gress has a fisc­al crisis or two to deal with. But im­mig­ra­tion re­form is on deck and ready to go.

What happened?

Both parties opened their eyes fol­low­ing an elec­tion in which the win­ning can­did­ate for pres­id­ent had new Amer­ic­an voters to thank for vic­tory. Ac­cord­ing to exit polls, Pres­id­ent Obama won by a land­slide among Latino voters (71 per­cent to 27 per­cent) and by an even wider mar­gin among Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters (73 per­cent-26 per­cent).

And the parties saw a coun­try in which voters across the spec­trum re­cog­nize we need a new im­mig­ra­tion pro­cess. Con­ser­vat­ive evan­gel­ic­al Chris­ti­ans, law-en­force­ment, and busi­ness lead­ers all urged Con­gress to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Sud­denly, politi­cians and pun­dits on the right changed their tune. “Self-de­port­a­tion,” the idea that as­pir­ing Amer­ic­ans without doc­u­ments could be made miser­able enough that they would de­cide to leave, was re­placed with soul-search­ing and calls for a new ap­proach to a rap­idly di­ver­si­fy­ing Amer­ica.

The elec­tion set the table for a wild ride in 2013.

The high point so far came in the Sen­ate on June 27, when 54 Demo­crats and 14 Re­pub­lic­ans voted for com­mon­sense re­form that would bring mil­lions of people out of the shad­ows and al­low them to con­trib­ute fully to our coun­try — while also em­phas­iz­ing bor­der se­cur­ity and restor­ing re­spect for the rule of law.

The road to bi­par­tis­an im­mig­ra­tion re­form has been bumpi­er in the House, where Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are choos­ing a dif­fer­ent path to­ward re­form — and where the con­ver­sa­tion has stalled amid budget and debt-ceil­ing de­bates.

But, to warp the old Mark Twain quote, re­ports of im­mig­ra­tion re­form’s death are an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. The reas­on is the same one that has pro­pelled the de­bate all year long: Amer­ic­ans across the polit­ic­al spec­trum are ready for re­form. They want an im­mig­ra­tion pro­cess that hon­ors our val­ues of equal­ity, fair­ness, and hard work.

Lead­ers who hold a Bible have re­doubled their sup­port for an im­mig­ra­tion pro­cess that hon­ors the hu­man dig­nity and sup­ports the fam­ily unity of every­one in their di­ver­si­fy­ing con­greg­a­tions and com­munit­ies. And they have the sup­port of their con­greg­a­tions in a way they nev­er did be­fore.

For ex­ample, just since sum­mer, more than 175,000 people have signed on to an evan­gel­ic­al ef­fort to pray for im­mig­rants, for Con­gress, and for im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Law-en­force­ment lead­ers con­tin­ue to speak out for re­form that will al­low them to fo­cus on pub­lic safety and re­build trust in im­mig­rant com­munit­ies, re­pla­cing a broken sys­tem in which loc­al of­fi­cials who carry a badge have been asked to as­sume fed­er­al im­mig­ra­tion-en­force­ment re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.

And, cer­tainly not least, busi­ness lead­ers re­cog­nize we are los­ing tal­ent and dim­ming our own eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity every day our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem re­mains in ef­fect. On all parts of the eco­nom­ic spec­trum, re­form will help us real­ize our full eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial — as study after study has sug­ges­ted.

Mean­while, demo­graph­ic real­it­ies re­main just that. Hav­ing tasted their polit­ic­al in­flu­ence in the 2012 elec­tion, new Amer­ic­an voters are mak­ing a com­pel­ling case that law­makers ig­nore, stall, or wa­ter down im­mig­ra­tion re­form at their per­il.

This com­bin­a­tion of pres­sure from the left and sup­port from the right makes im­mig­ra­tion un­like any oth­er pub­lic policy is­sue: A true ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans want com­mon­sense re­form to pass.

As a res­ult, the ques­tion is not if Con­gress will cre­ate a new im­mig­ra­tion pro­cess. Rather, the ques­tion is when? Voices across the polit­ic­al spec­trum are say­ing: Now. Be­fore the end of 2013.

Buckle up. This ride isn’t over yet.

Ali Noor­ani is the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Im­mig­ra­tion For­um, an ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion that pro­motes fed­er­al im­mig­ra­tion policies that ad­dress U.S. eco­nom­ic and na­tion­al se­cur­ity needs.

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