Sarah Rands Keasler ’16
President George W. Bush fought for immigration reform while he was in office. But his bill, a comprehensive measure that strengthened border security while also creating a temporary guest worker program, ultimately failed to get through Congress. As President Obama begins his fifth year in the White House the nation sees a similar proposal up for debate that has the opportunity to pass under a new wave of elected officials. According to The Daily Beast, the Bush’s immigration reform bill died due to staunch opposition from congressional Republicans who now “know they cannot afford to alienate Hispanics any longer.” Riding a wave of post-election momentum, it is possible that President Obama is in a better position than President Bush to get his legislation passed. With two very different presidents basically agreeing on the underlying principles of immigration reform, there is a strong possibility that the bill will ultimately pass. The deciding factor will be whether or not Congress can find a way to come together.
An article in the Wall Street Journal, “House Republicans Cool on Citizenship Path,” exemplifies how Republicans have recently opened up to the idea of finding some compromise for those in the country illegally. In the past, many Republicans were unwilling to relax the country’s strict immigration laws, but today that is beginning to change. Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte posed the question on whether “there are options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship.” One option discussed was permanent legal status. This idea was not as accepted by Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who supports citizenship and not “a permanent second-class status.” Republicans and Democrats alike are able to agree on certain issues in the debate. Each side agrees on making the process easier for immigrants who are highly educated, especially when it comes to math and science. Recently, they have found common ground on citizenship for those who were brought to the country as minors.
Leading the Republican Party on the stance of immigration reform is Senator Marco Rubio. This past week the Huffington Post released an article about Senator Rubio’s recent rise within the Republican Party and his mission to mold and express Republican’s opinions on citizenship. Rubio believes in a GOP that encourages more Hispanics and minorities to join but “says Republicans must stay true to their principles.” Rubio is an important player in immigration reform as his parents were both immigrants and his background helps him connect with the issue. He believes in strengthening the Republican vote by attracting voters from all economic backgrounds but understands the fact that, historically, the majority of Hispanic votes have been for Democrats. His proposal includes increasing border security prior to setting a path of citizenship for the currently estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States without documentation. Moving forward, the Republican Party’s challenge is to gain the support of moderate Republicans, who mostly support granting legal residency but not full citizenship. The Republican Party will need to come to a consensus on the two proposals before the bill will have a chance of passing. Rubio has led the Republican rally for immigration reform to pass in Congress, receiving both accolades and critics along the way. He was once again in the spotlight earlier this week, as he was chosen to deliver the official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday February 12th.
An ABC News article outlines how the Democrats’ ideas on immigration reform differ from the Republican Party’s. One of the issues surrounding the passage of comprehensive immigration reform is whether the package is contained to a single bill or “a series of legislative pieces.” Congressional Democrats believe that breaking the legislation up into several components will decrease the likelihood of the measure’s final passage. For Democrats, the most important objective is a pathway to citizenship. This could mean years of temporary citizenship before becoming legal American citizens, but Democrats have emphasized that a bill not including citizenship is unacceptable. They believe “a pathway to citizenship is an essential element of reform that enjoys popular support from the American public,” as over 50% of Americans supported a pathway to citizenship in a recent poll.
President Obama promised immigration reform in his first year as president, and four years later, it finally seems to be coming together. As debate on the proposal progresses, much of the conversation will be focused on whether or not full citizenship for illegal immigrants is the answer and how it will affect nation’s demographics and voting behavior. Current statistics show the Hispanic vote to be more in favor of the Democratic political party than the Republican Party. Allowing the Hispanic population to become citizens could drastically affect the politics we know of today and bring significant changes to the government.