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Post-election Prospects for Immigration Reform

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Last month, over 120 million Americans cast their ballots to choose the leader of the free world. They also voted for members of the House and Senate as well as officials at the state and local level. While the people have spoken, one of the most bitter seasons of presidential and congressional elections has left a nation divided.

But a funny thing happened after voters made their preferences known at the ballot box. The issue of immigration reform, which remained primarily on the sidelines during these political contests, came roaring back to the forefront once the electoral damage had been surveyed and the finger-pointing had begun. Republicans had not been expected to capture a majority of the minority vote, but they weren’t expecting the trouncing they received either. According to exit polls, Mitt Romney only received 27% of the Latino vote compared to Barack Obama’s 71%. Even more surprising, the former governor of Massachusetts only received 26% of the Asian vote to the president’s 73%.

The fault for this poor showing among Latinos and Asians was quickly put at the door of Romney’s awkward stance on illegal immigration. During a Republican primary debate this past January, Romney suggested that undocumented aliens should “self-deport,” doing incalculable damage in the eyes of the Latino electorate. Despite the poor economy, for many Latino Americans, this message of exclusion hit first and hit harder. And it no doubt resonated with Asian Americans and other ethnic groups, who already harbored suspicions about Republican openness to immigration reform.

To be fair, Democrats have also not consistently led the charge for changes to our immigration laws. This issue saw little attention during President Obama’s first two years in office, when he held congressional majorities that allowed him to pass other pieces of keynote legislation. The rate of deportation for illegal immigrants under the Obama Administration was also 50% higher than it was under President Bush. However, much of this was forgotten or overlooked once President Obama issued an executive order in June of 2012 that halted the deportation of an estimated 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and currently live here.

Prominent republican senators have been urging their colleagues in the House and Senate to embrace immigration issues as a way break their current voter impasse with Latinos and other ethnic groups. And Democrats will no doubt match – if not surpass – them measure for measure as immigration reform gets taken up by both sides in the months ahead. It would seem the path to citizenship is about to open for many given the sudden spirit of reform.

However, such excited anticipation is dampened by the underlying motivations of too many members of both parties. Immigration reform is not a political football to be thrown to score touchdowns with voters. Immigration is the lifeblood of America, enriching us at every level. As this blog has discussed in the past, sensible immigration reform must also recognize how central the influx of foreign nationals is to our cultural richness and economic security, from promoting American innovation ( to creating small businesses (

The time for blame and exclusion is over, and there is indeed hope. This week, Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, related in an interview that he recently ran into Representative Paul Ryan and made plans to discuss immigration reform together next week. And why was he so encouraged by Ryan? As Gutierrez explained, “He says I want to do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

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