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
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
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
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.