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The Changing Politics of Immigration Reform

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As candidates look to woo the Latino vote that will be decisive in the coming midterm elections, they should make no mistake that immigration reform is still a top priority for Latino voters. Eighty-seven percent of Hispanic voters say they would vote against candidates in favor of forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country.

According to a new report by America's Voice, Latinos are a growing part of the electorate that will be decisive in upcoming races in 12 states and in seven House races in Florida alone. And it's no secret that efforts by both parties to address immigration reform in recent years played a decisive role in determining how Latinos voted in 2008. Latinos helped create a grassroots movement, voting 67% for President Obama, believing there could be an historic opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform in 2009.

Yet despite a Democratically-controlled Congress, fixing our broken immigration system remains on the backburner and local "enforcement-only" measures continue to rip apart immigrant families and divide our communities nationwide. This blunt reality has left the Latino and other communities with less confidence in either party, which doesn't bode well for Democratic candidates hoping to fire up voters they once relied on as part of their base. Republicans don't fare any better given their full-on obstruction to any reform efforts and pandering to a vocal right-wing, anti-immigrant fringe that only further alienates the nation's fastest growing population.

Both parties must realize that despite widespread fear mongering, most Americans still support sensible immigration reform, including efforts to legalize the undocumented workers and restore the rule of law. A recent poll by Beneson Strategy Group shows that an overwhelming majority of voters across party lines want immigration reform to be done in 2010. Nearly 90% support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, provided they register with the government and meet requirements like working, paying taxes, and learning English.

The truth is that bringing those out from the shadows to fully contribute to our society actually makes economic as well as moral sense. The time has come to bring our immigration system into line with our economic interests and humanitarian values by creating a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom are working and living and contributing to our communities.

Researchers at UCLA found that deporting undocumented immigrants would cost our country's gross domestic product a whopping $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years, while embracing comprehensive immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion to our gross domestic product over that same period of time.

By failing to fix a broken immigration system, Congress has dumped the job of managing immigration to states which with no authority, resources or expertise are taking matters into their own hands -- and often with poor results. Electeds, who are confronting a tidal wave of anti-incumbency, would be wise to take a page out of the 2008 playbook and remember that voters chose candidates who offered moral and practical solutions over those who offered just empty rhetoric.

Reforming the immigration system is necessary not just to stop immigrant workers from being unfairly abused, but to help all workers get back on their feet by raising worker standards. In this election year, it might just be good politics too.

With more than 120,000 members from Miami to Hartford, 32BJ SEIU is one of the largest immigrant workers' unions in the country.