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.
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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