Sen. John McCain -- the Republican political warrior that he is -- walked into a firing line of a couple of Arizona constituents this week who complained about his work on a bipartisan commonsense immigration reform bill. Among some of his constituents, "bi-partisan" is as treasonous as "common-sense immigration reform."
McCain stuck to his support for common-sense immigration reform. "There are 11 million people living here illegally," he said. "We are not going to get enough buses to deport them." He also called for voices of reason and urged compassion. "We are a Judeo-Christian nation."
The news media, of course, loves a fight and gave the Arizona town hall meeting extensive coverage. That bit of political theater proved to be as interesting for the news media as the speculation over whether President Obama and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio could be friends and enemies during immigration negotiations. Publicly at odds, their staffs are talking three times a week.
But here is what will get the attention -- if not of the media, at least of Congress -- in the upcoming legislative debate on immigration: the voices of Latinos.
This week, while Congress has been in recess, SEIU has been running Spanish language radio ads in 38 states, reaching at least 18 million radio listeners. That is worth repeating: 18 million Spanish language radio listeners.
The radio ad campaign is the first salvo in a broad campaign by Alliance for Citizenship, a coalition of community, civil rights, faith and labor groups who are joining forces to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship this year.
The message to Congress in the ad is very simple: The critical voices of Latinos who helped deliver a mandate for commonsense immigration reform in November's election are going to keep raising their voices as Congress begins the debate. We will be heard and seen.
Our coalition is on the air and on the ground, knocking on the doors of Congress and boarding buses to deliver the message nationwide that the time is now for immigration reform.
Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress and voters -- even in Arizona -- agree we need a fair, accountable immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, holds employers accountable and keeps our borders safe. A recent poll http://www.seiu.org/2013/01/new-poll-strong-bipartisan-support-for-immigration.php by Democratic and Republican pollsters found 77 percent voter approval for this plan including 80 percent backing by Republicans and 77 percent by Democrats. We all know we cannot create a better future for American workers as long as 11 million other workers are forced to live in the shadows of our society.
However, we also know there are still some in Congress who are stuck in the past and are saying, "No." They say a pathway to citizenship is an "extreme option."
When did citizenship, which is at the core of our democracy, become an extreme idea? What is extreme is to create a permanent underclass of people who contribute to our communities, pay taxes, join the military and defend our country in foreign war zones, but tell them they can never have a chance to be a part of us. That is not only extreme, it is un-American. In America, everyone is equal.
Latinos did not go to the polls expecting our "abuelitas," our grandmothers, parents, brothers, sisters and coworkers to be relegated to second-class status.
We expect Congress to pass a bill that includes a fair, clear and direct path to citizenship, without any if's or but's, roadblocks, or unreasonable waiting periods that are designed to delay and deny citizenship.
If Congress does not do that, they will hear from us. We will make sure that voters in 2014 know who championed reforms and who stood in the way.
Latinos, immigrants and fair-minded people will remember, and members of Congress should pay attention.
This is our moment in history to finally get it right. The economy needs it. The public supports it. And commonsense demands it. Congress, get it done.
The time is now.