While most hot button issues in Washington are subject to polarized partisan gridlock, immigration reform may finally pass this year under a bipartisan compromise.
With a broken and out-of-date immigration system, there are an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., 59 percent from Mexico, with some brought illegally into this country by their parents when they were children. Eight million are in the labor force, with 75 percent paying payroll taxes that generate $7 billion in Social Security funds they are unable to collect, and 66 percent paying income taxes. All undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes, and on the whole they contribute $5 billion more to government agencies than they take out.
With support from President Barack Obama, the bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight has proposed a framework for comprehensive immigration reform. Participating senators are Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
This framework includes a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, consisting of background checks, with those convicted of serious crimes immediately deported, paying back taxes, paying a fine equivalent to a nonresident work visa, learning English, provisional status to live and work in the U.S., leading to a green card for permanent residency; improving border security; establishing a verification system to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants; overhauling the legal immigration system to produce more green cards for highly skilled and educated immigrants, as well as business owners and students; and creating a guest worker program for jobs Americans are unable or unwilling to fill.
Immigration reform is an important issue for Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., who have been rapidly moving to the Democrats in their voting habits. “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got to understand that,” said McCain. Indeed, support by Hispanics for Republican presidential candidates has declined severely in recent elections, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for McCain in 2008 to 27 percent in 2012 for Mitt Romney, who proposed forcing undocumented immigrants to deport themselves. Meanwhile, Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote.
If the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan compromise can hold in the Senate, immigration reform has a decent chance of passing. Democratic support should be overwhelming, while Republicans are split between pragmatists seeking Hispanic support and conservatives who view any path to legal status for undocumented immigrants as “amnesty.”
However one may regard people who entered the U.S. illegally, we should remember that mass deportations are impractical, while larger numbers of people here means more business and more jobs. As such, a realistic immigration system is long overdue.