It didn't escape anyone's notice that Latino voters helped carry President Barack Obama over the finish line Nov. 6. Suddenly, everybody's talking about immigration reform.
Not round-them-up-and-throw-them-out immigration reform. Not make-them-so-miserable-they-self-deport. They're talking about the comprehensive reform that George W. Bush promised to make a centerpiece of his second term - with serious enforcement, a realistic visa system and a path to legalization for the millions of immigrants who are here illegally.
Bush couldn't get Republicans in Congress to go along with him, but Obama might. That's because Hispanic voters are stepping up at the ballot box. Thanks to a big voter registration push, they now make up roughly 10 percent of the electorate, with heavy concentrations in swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado. More than 70 percent of them voted for Obama.
They did so despite their disappointment that Obama hadn't delivered immigration reform in his first term as promised and despite a record number of deportations on his watch. But the president did go to court to stop Arizona and other states from enacting their own harsh anti-immigrant laws. And in June, he ordered a new policy under which ambitious, law-abiding young immigrants, brought here illegally by their parents, could stay in the country and get work permits if they go to school or serve in the military.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, filibustered a broader version of that plan, the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for those youngsters. And Mitt Romney won the party's nomination by campaigning to the far right on immigration during the primary.
"The fastest-growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election cycle," fretted Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And it has to stop."
House Speaker John Boehner said a comprehensive fix is "long overdue" and promised to work with Obama "to take care of this issue once and for all." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who backpedaled on his support for comprehensive reform during his own run for president, seconded Boehner's motion via Twitter. Fox News pundit Sean Hannity declared that his position has "evolved"; he's now OK with "a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say you gotta go home." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer even used the A-word - amnesty - in his appeal for reform. It sounds like we have a quorum.
So what does comprehensive immigration reform look like?
It looks a lot like the plan co-sponsored by McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2005. Or the one proposed by Graham and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in 2010.
Both of those plans included:
-Greater security at the border to prevent people from entering illegally, plus deportation of criminal immigrants.
-Strict workplace enforcement to help employers ensure they're hiring legal workers and to punish those who don't.
-A realistic visa system to align the number of available workers, both skilled and unskilled, with the needs of American businesses.
-A path to citizenship for those who have been living and working here illegally. They'd have to pay fines and back taxes, pass background checks, learn English and take their places in line.
Both were sensible, bipartisan plans, felled by politicians more interested in immigrant bashing than immigration reform.
Supporters tried to peel off and pass the DREAM Act, which has wide bipartisan support, but the loudmouths blocked that too. So Obama went around them, and look what happened.
Now that Hispanic voters have gotten Republicans' attention, things are coming into focus. Our immigration system is a wreck, and they're part of the problem. Time to be part of the solution.
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