By Eduardo Stanley
Now that President Obama has unveiled his plans to overhaul the obsolete immigration law, many former opponents of such an idea are joining the tide, hoping to gain some Latino political support. But is it too late for them?
“If you can’t beat them, join them” seems to be the thinking among conservative politicians who are now announcing their support of such an overhaul.
The last immigration reform occurred in 1986 with strong bipartisan support. Since then, both parties have taken different approaches to the issue.
After the electoral defeat in November 2012, Republicans apparently understood that the conservative agenda doesn’t have much appeal to the majority of voters—particularly among so-called minorities and young people.
Considering the demographics, especially in certain areas of the country, Republicans are right to be concerned about losing their appeal to minorities.
Let’s point out that not only Latinos are among the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of them are Asians, whereas Hispanics represent 81%. This finding was published in 2011 (www.pewresearch.org).
The problem for Republicans is that in several states minorities like Latinos are becoming the majority of the population, and history shows that they mainly vote Democrat.
Take, for example, California. According to projections from the state’s Department of Finance, by 2014 Latinos “will become the plurality” of the population (www.dof.ca.gov). This means the White population will start losing its present electoral power.
Currently, Republicans in California are behind Democrats in the number of registered voters. According to the Secretary of State, for the 2012 elections 43.7% of registered voters declared themselves Democrats, whereas 29.4% called themselves Republicans (www.sos.ca.gov). The combination of these numbers with the demographic changes in the state may put conservatives at the brink of political ostracism.
During the 2012 elections, 71% of Latinos voted for President Obama giving him the victory in key states such as Colorado and Florida. Immediately, Republicans realized the need to court Latino voters if they want to survive and win elections, especially in some areas of the country where they are becoming politically obsolete. To this end, their first reaction was to change their stance on immigration.
For example, California State Senator Anthony Canella (R–Ceres) called for the state to consider providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and supported Obama’s call for immigration reform.
Will this bring the Latino sympathy—and the votes—to Republicans? It may be too little, too late. However, in politics nothing is written in stone.
Republicans didn’t understand some strong and clear signs that something was changing in the country. Perhaps the clearest sign became visible in 2006, when millions of immigrants and pro-immigrant rights groups took to the streets to express opposition to the virulent anti-immigrant bill HR-4437. The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R–Wisc.), passed the House in December 2005, but the Senate didn’t consider it due to public reaction. And in November 2006, Democrats gained control of Congress.
At that point, a change of mind by Republicans could have helped make gains on the Latino front. Instead, they continued pressing the issue and supporting similar bills at the state level, like the famous Arizona bill AB-1070 of 2010, considered then the most radical anti-immigrant law. Before that, in 2007, Republicans stopped the Kennedy-McCain bill in the U.S. Senate—a shy immigration reform bill with some bipartisan support.
With the Minutemen using the U.S.-Mexico border as a background picture and the Tea Party in the making, conservatives’ anti-immigrant stance sounded unstoppable. Many Latinos expressed dismay, not only to Republican opposition to immigration reform but also to their rhetoric, which Latinos considered insulting.
Immersed in such dynamics, Republicans were unable to understand the signs of social change happening in the “underground” (the way Latinos receive and broadcast political information), the role of the Spanish media, the support network that goes well beyond Washington-based Hispanic groups and organizations, and the overall political climate at ground level.
The current proposal by the White House to reform the current immigration law is, in part, the result of those movements and events that started happening in 2006—if we only consider the most recent past.
It is also the result of an unbearable situation that keeps millions of people in the shadows. With the present economic crisis, allowing thousands of people to become residents may help at least partially to reinvigorate the economy.
If such a reform takes place, it could result in the incorporation of up to 3 million new residents—and later citizens. It is a number that will reshape the electoral map in several states, and perhaps the country.
How did we get to this point? In the next series of articles, we’ll try to answer this and other related questions.
Eduardo Stanley is a journalist and photographer covering issues related to immigration and the Central Valley. Learn more about his work at www.eduardostanley.com.
Our Immigration Reform—2013
By Local Coalition of Immigration Rights Groups and Activists
The U.S. immigration system has not been updated for more than 20 years. In our view, immigration reform has been neglected by Congress by not confronting the migration crisis affecting millions of human beings. President Obama, the Senate and the House of Representatives must work together and not politicize the issue of immigration.
Immigration reform must first be humanized before it is politicized. The three levels of government must first listen to the affected immigrants, their families, pro-immigrant organizations, employers and any other entity that wishes to handle the problem and not worsen it. Representatives and senators must hold hearings in their districts to hear firsthand the testimonies of families.
In Fresno, the May Day Coalition for Immigrants Rights, a collaboration of pro-immigrant organizations and allies, for years has pushed immigration reform, as well as defending the rights of immigrants through education and civic action. The May Day Coalition for Immigrants Rights and other community organizations such as Fresno Immigrant Youth in Action, the ACLU of Northern California, Centro Binacional Para El Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO) and Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB) recently met to exchange, outline and draft a proposal with principles that we considered necessary to be included in the discussion for immigration reform.
Currently, there is no written bill in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Therefore, it is the right time for our proposals to be heard and taken into account in discussions of immigration reform. President Obama has said that he will submit his own bill if in the next five months there is no bill from Congress.
So it is everyone’s responsibility to start working on an immigration reform that is just and humane.
- We believe that immigration reform should start with a stop to deportations. Thousands of families will be separated before an immigration reform bill gets approved and signed into law.
- Secure Communities and 287G programs and any collaboration between law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must end.
- Legalization must include all immigrants that are already residing in the United States and their family members from the date that it is signed into law.
- English-language studies should not be a requirement in order to obtain a residency card, and nobody should be disqualified due to language.
- We propose a fast process with low fees based on the income of low-income workers without excessive fines.
- Legalization should have a safe path to citizenship for everyone.
- It must be inclusive for all productive sectors of society and their families.
- It must be inclusive of same-sex permanent partnerships.
- Furthermore, it should guarantee healthcare rights for everyone.
- We propose the new law should not bar anyone with brief absences from the country or previous deportations from eligibility for residency or citizenship.
- There must be pardons for people who have committed offenses in the past; we all deserve a second chance.
- We believe that “criminal act” should be separated from the immigration process.
- Family reunification should be an essential part of immigration reform; petitions should be processed in a timely manner and the three- and 10-year bars should end.
- Guest workers program: Current guest workers programs should be modified. Workers in these programs should be protected and guaranteed the same labor rights as everyone else.
- Guest workers should have the option to stay legally in the country if they so choose and be permitted to bring their family members and obtain citizenship.
- Guest workers should have the option to change employer, and employers who are found to violate the labor rights of workers should be eliminated from contracting guest workers.
- The new immigration reform should guarantee the labor rights of everyone and should not interfere with the labor rights of workers.
- Border security/enforcement: Legalization and citizenship of people should not depend on border security. There will never be a measure that will guarantee 100% border security.
- We are not in agreement with the enforcement expansion or the militarization of the border.
- There should be legal prosecution for border patrol officers who commit crimes against immigrants.
- There should be no privatization of detention centers.
- Internal enforcement: We are in favor of an enforcement system that does not hurt workers. The current E-Verify system has many issues, therefore it should be eliminated or at least modified because 40% of the database has errors.
- Cultural rights and the native language of immigrant workers should be protected.
- Immigration reform should pay special attention to work with immigrant-sending-countries to resolve the causes of immigration.
- Immigration reform should also work with those countries to invest in a responsible manner in areas where immigrants are forced out of their communities due to the economic policies that the United States has with said countries.
For more information, contact Leoncio Vásquez Santos at 559-499-1178 or at Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO), 744 N. Abby St., Fresno, CA 93701.