Immigration is one of the great stories of America's history. It is immortalized in the words penned by Emma Lazarus, and engraved on a bronze plaque that hangs on an inner wall of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
The United States is a nation built on the blood and sweat of immigrants; it is a great melting pot of cultures that together have strengthened the country, and have broadened its horizons. America, the land of opportunity, of immense freedom, and of a generous people, has attracted millions of people from all over the world. Nonetheless, immigration has been politicized for decades, and reasonable reforms have eluded Washington.
But now is the time to do something meaningful. President Barack Obama will announce an effort to overhaul immigration on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada, a critical state, where he carried the Latino vote this past November. Leading Republicans, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are also leading reform efforts within that party, which are now a priority because Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received less than 30 percent of the Latino vote.
Appearing on ABC's This Week Sunday, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J) said it is time for action. "First, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly Democrats want it. And fourth Republicans need it," he said. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) echoed that sentiment, "There's a new appreciation on both sides of the aisle including, maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle, that we have to enact comprehensive immigration reform."
There are more that 50 million Latinos living in the United States, and they are the fastest growing demographic in the country. Every month, 50,000 Latinos reach the voting age. But they also make up the largest portion of the 11 million illegals living in America's shadows. And many Americans, especially Republicans, remain opposed to laws that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the country or obtain legal status.
According to the Washington Post, a bipartisan group of senators is nearing agreement to normalize the status of illegals, allowing those with no criminal record to obtain work permits, and calling for tighter border controls and verification procedures. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) told Fox News, "We're at the talking points stage ... we need to get to the legislation." So the devil is in the details.
While there are huge Latino populations in California, Texas, New York and Florida, Latinos live in every state. Latinos are successful small business owners; they work in homes and on assembly lines. Illegal or not, they contribute to daily life in America. Because of the recession, illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle. Nonetheless, Pew Research projects that Latinos will make up nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population in 2050.
Now is the time for immigration reform. Let history be the guide for politicians in Washington because immigration has always enriched the fabric of America. Think of the Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, and the words displayed on the bronze plaque, "From her beacon-hand glows a world-wide welcome."