05/21/2010 12:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Search of the Skittish 60 Votes to Pass Immigration Reform

Relying on a set of arcane rules, at least 60 U.S. Senators must agree to work together in order to get a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill passed. Most pundits, and even some of us in the immigration reform advocacy movement, have come to believe and accept that most of those votes must come from Democrats; after all, they are the majority party in both chambers. This approach is not only unwise but it frees Republicans from any responsibility or repercussion should our nation's immigration laws not get a reprieve in 2010.

The nation's immigration laws are dangerously broken. This much Americans and the political class agree with. From farmers in Nebraska to miners in Kansas, from fishermen in Washington to stock traders in New York we all have a stake, albeit in different degrees, in whatever happens to authorized and unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. We also care how our leaders in Congress help or hinder the passage of laws that regulate immigrant presence and their future integration to American society. Even if we are not fully invested in the details, Americans want solutions. Either we all sink or we all thrive.

Having said that, it would make sense that in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, just to name a few key immigrant gateway and swing states with growing immigrant populations, finding long-term, practical, and effective solutions to unauthorized immigration is not an option but a dire necessity. For Senators and Representatives from these states, finding common ground with members of the other side of the aisle should be a priority for economic and political reasons let alone moral conviction.

That is what reason would dictate. All Senators and Representatives coming from these states should be busy at work drafting, introducing, and approving the next CIR bill. They are not. Most are missing in action.

How many Democrat and how many Republican senators are we talking about? California is represented by two Democrats. Arizona is represented by two Republicans. Colorado is represented by two Democrats. Florida is represented by one Democrat and one Republican. Nevada is represented by one Democrat and one Republican. Georgia is represented by two Republicans. South Carolina is represented by two republicans. Maryland is represented by two Democrats. Texas is represented by two Republicans. And Virginia is represented by two Democrats.

That's ten Democrats and ten Republicans in the Senate who should be foaming at the mouth, fighting to reach a solution to unauthorized immigration. Oddly enough, Republicans representing these states have demonstrated little or no interest in trying to solve one of their constituents' top priorities. Rather than getting to work as we asked them to do in November 2008, these elected officials are more eager to "keep the party line" than to work for America's welfare.

So why are voters not storming the congressional offices of these Republican senators who have conveniently adopted cowardly if not outright antagonistic positions on the issue of immigration reform? Isn't the state of Arizona, for example, clamoring for federal intervention on the matter of unauthorized immigration? Where have Senators Kyle and McCain been during the past twelve months when immigration enforcement mechanisms have reached the infamous figure of 1,200 deportations a day (half of which are coming from Arizona)? Where are these two Senators now when the nation needs them to work on solutions to curb unauthorized immigration? Advocating for a "dang wall," and more enforcement, that's where.

I am under no illusion that all Democrats in Congress are enthusiastically supporting an immigration system overhaul. They are not. Some would rather drop dead before they are forced to vote in favor of real change. But there is a serious difference between Democrats in Congress and Republicans: not only have Republicans become the masters of obfuscation but now they have shamelessly chosen to attack, denigrate, and criminalize immigrants and Latinos in every which way. Their mantra this political season is "get them while the going is good."

The real winners of serious immigration reform will be the American people. Immigrant families will also benefit because emergence from the shadows will mean even more contributions to this nation. Study after study underscores the financial benefits a legalization program would bring to cash-strapped states. But in addition, America's concerns about national security, who is here, who is not, how many and where, would all be addressed by requiring these new Americans-in-waiting to register, pay back taxes, learn English, and fully integrate in our society once and for all.

The long-term solution some in the Senate have proposed is not simple to digest, but it signifies a fair and practical movement forward. The legislative framework put forth by Senator Schumer (D-NJ) and others needs the helping hand of all the Senators who represent the states where immigration reform is an immediate concern. Simply put, we need these Senators to legislate, compromise and move the process forward to get a CIR bill signed by the President this year.

Instead, the framework Republicans and some Democrats continue to advance is billions of dollars in expenses to build more walls, house and feed half a million immigrants in more than 300 detention centers throughout the United States, clog the courts for months if not years, and still far from making a significant dent on unauthorized immigration.

Instead, what we have is stalemate, a nation in crisis, and at least ten Republican senators scurrying away from their responsibility to the American people. The madness must stop. The votes must be cast whether it's politically convenient or not in favor of an immigration reform bill.

Mayron Payes, Center for Community Change, contributed to this story.