Latino leaders in Southern California were reacting positively Monday to a
bipartisan group of leading senators' announcement that it was ready to move
forward on a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws, including a path to
citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in this
Although immigration reform is nothing new in the national debate and has stalled repeatedly in recent years, some observers say the time may finally be right to allow undocumented immigrants a reasonable way to change their status.
"I am extremely hopeful," said Danny Diaz, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in California, the largest Latino civil rights non-profit organization in the United States.
Citing the changing political climate and the emergence of Latinos as a political force, Diaz said he is as optimistic as he has ever been.
"Eleven million people will be able to come out of the shadows and be a part of the American tapestry, the beautiful American tapestry," Diaz said.
While the deal that was announced by Republican and Democratic senators also covers border security, non-citizen or "guest" workers and employer verification of immigration status, it was the always contentious citizenship question that mattered most to immigrant advocates.
"We thank this bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats for understanding that a road map to citizenship is essential to any immigration reform plan," said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers.
Diaz agreed that with any offer of reform, "you have to include a path to citizenship."
And he added "it must be dignified."
"We're willing to do whatever is needed," he said, "but it has to be responsible and just."
Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, a regional immigrant and human rights organization, said in a statement that "A key building block to overhauling our nation's immigration laws has been laid and a movement to create a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants living in the US is inching forward for the first time in at least two decades."
Some who have been down this road before are taking a wait-and-see approach. They remember 2007 when late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and current supporter of the new effort Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., brought forth a failed proposal for immigration reform.
"The proposal today is similar to what was unveiled in 2006 and 2007. It starts on a pretty solid basis," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a UC Riverside political scientist who studies immigration. "The big question is what happens in the House of Representatives, because it is controlled by Republicans."
"It's like a carrot," Amelia Nieto, executive director of Long Beach assistance agency Centro Shalom, said of promises of reform and paths to citizenship. "I don't get excited anymore. We really thought this was going to happen when (President George W.) Bush was in office."
Diaz, however, said the new Latino political presence, which many say was a strong factor in Republican political defeats in the most recent elections, could carry the day.
"I think we have more bite, more beef," he said. "People used to say,
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