Unlikely Immigration Allies, Likely Results

Ann Schaffer
April 17, 2013

If, as the politicians say, elections have consequences, November 6, 2012, was a landmark day for advocates of immigration reform. Latinos, mobilized in an unprecedented way by the obvious shortcomings of the current immigration system, made a major impact at the voting booth. Immigration reform is suddenly the issue du jour. For the first time in years there is reason to expect a pragmatic resolution in 2013.


The dramatic changes in the economic and security needs of the U.S. over the past few decades make it clear that current immigration laws function against our national interests and our values. Under the current system, families cannot be united; some five million people who overstay student or visitor visas cannot be tracked; high-skilled graduate students cannot obtain work visas even though our economy desperately needs their skills; states are enacting restrictive and potentially discriminatory laws; law enforcement is diverted from pursuing criminal acts;and 11 million people remain in the shadows, unable to achieve full economic and social integration.


Yet, just as stark partisanship would appear to create gridlock, the highly divisive issue of immigration reform is gathering support from unexpected sources. No one is more surprised than the longtime advocates of reform who have preached to the choir for decades and only recently reached out for allies. They are now realizing the beneficial power of building coalitions with unlikely allies.


Since 2009, AJC has brought together in several major cities across the country key diverse stakeholders from business, law enforcement and religion for honest dialogue on immigration reform. They have focused on the economic imperative for fixing the broken system as the major impetus and common ground for reform. This approach has resulted in the Colorado and Texas Compacts, modeled after the Utah Compact, statewide sets of principles about immigration reform that create a model for the debate at the national level.


Currently, the nation’s most powerful immigration reform coalition, the National Immigration Forum, is promoting an alliance of “bibles, badges and business” leaders, as stakeholders who have seldom worked together in the past. Conservative and libertarian think tanks, economists and academics have researched and written extensively on the economic benefits of immigration reform. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are lining up.


Law enforcement officials, notably the former Republican attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, has become a prominent national advocate for immigration reform. Senior law enforcement officials from the National Sheriffs Association (NSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) are asking for “help in Washington so that we can focus on catching criminals, rather than sacrificing priorities to play the role of immigration agent,” says Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles. “Immigration reform will strengthen security in communities across the country.”


These unlikely allies are also affirming that immigration policy is a federal issue; policies that keep families united embody our values; immigrants play a positive economic role as high-skilled and low-skilled workers, entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers; and that America must support measures that encourage immigrants to integrate into American society through English-language programs and citizenship courses.


Now, a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers has introduced in the Senate comprehensive immigration reform legislation that offers a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million prospective new Americans.


In addition, a high-profile bipartisan coalition, led by two Republicans—former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and two Democrats— former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, is committed to “keep up momentum behind overhauling immigration.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg leads a group of 400 business leaders and mayors at the Partnership for a New Economy, articulating the economic value of immigration reform. Diverse ethnic and religious voices are providing additional momentum.


Moreover, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, two groups usually in conflict, have found ways to accommodate the needs of business to recruit foreign workers and labor’s concern about workforce protections.


The two groups affirm that “the challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers.” They have committed to continue to work together and with Members of Congress.


These new alliances will provide the backbone and the united voice necessary for the tough battle ahead this year to enact legislation that meets America’s economic and security needs, unifies families, and is consistent with our national values.


Ann Schaffer is director of AJC’s Belfer Center for American Pluralism.Date: 4/17/2013 12:00:00 AM

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