After 71% of Latinos voted for President Obama in November, the Presidentpromised to make immigration reform a priority early in 2013. In recent weeks, administration officials have said that Obama will indeed begin to push for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, after the fiscal cliff negotiations end.
Advocates are putting pressure on Obama to reverse his dismal record on immigration reform early in his second term, despite fears that continuing fiscal cliff talks and nationwide calls for gun control legislation since the massacre in Newtown, CT on December 14th might push immigration reform to the bottom of the President’s agenda. More than 1.4 million people have been deported since Obama took office in 2008, including over 400,000 this year alone.
Bipartisan groups of lawmakers have already started to meet to discuss possible strategies for reform. According to Politico, a group of Republican and Democratic senators, several of whom have promoted comprehensive immigration reform plans in the past, began meeting earlier this month about immigration reform. The group includes Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a fierce immigrant advocate from Illinois (he was evenarrested in 2011 in a protest of Obama’s immigration policies), has also met with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to spark movement on comprehensive immigration reform. Ryan supported immigration reform legislation advanced by Gutierrez and Flake in the House in 2005.
In the meantime, Latino leaders are making sure that the President and Congress do not forget the estimated 12.5 million Latino voters who came out on Election Day.
Three major Obama donors who were instrumental in mobilizing Latino voters in November, including Eva Longoria, are starting a new organization that will push for comprehensive immigration reform in the next term.
Leaders from eight prominent Latino organizations including the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the International Secretary-Treasurer of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU),issued a joint statement on December 12th calling for comprehensive immigration reform, saying that “the time to act is now.”
The leaders will also be holding elected officials accountable to Latino voters by creating “report cards” for members of Congress: “Our voter education campaigns will monitor the performance of Congress as it debates comprehensive immigration reform. Members of Congress will be rated on how aggressively they championed comprehensive immigration reform or whether they tried to block it. With these report cards, Latinos will be able to determine who deserves their support in the 2014 election cycle.”
While the non-profit leaders did not provide specific details about what a reform package would look like, they adamantly called for one comprehensive immigration reform bill — as opposed to “piecemeal” legislation, which is favored by many Republicans, including Latino Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
In the last month, Republicans have introduced several individual pieces of immigration reform legislation, in an effort to appeal to Latinos while avoiding comprehensive immigration reform. One bill, which would have created a visa program for immigrants with graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), while eliminating another, long-standing visa program, passed the House but was blocked in the Senate. The bill was criticized by the Obama administration for being too “narrowly tailored,” and out of step with Obama’s “long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”
Typically, comprehensive immigration reform combines pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – including young people brought to the U.S. at a young age who have completed college or military service – with visa programs for high-skilled, low-skilled, and seasonal workers, in addition to provisions for border security.