Latino voters are "suddenly the 'it' demographic in U.S. politics," and, seemingly overnight, support for immigration reform is also en vogue: A recent Bloomberg headline trumpeted the "The Political Inevitability of Immigration Reform." Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is "confident" that Washington will finally find "common ground" on a "comprehensive approach." Even FOX News has "evolved" on the immigration issue.
However, as many delighted immigrant advocates dance in the proverbial streets, I'm scratching my head. Yes, it is true that the multicultural, minority masses -- the sought-after Latino voting bloc among them -- have spoken, simultaneously granting Obama another four years in office while thrusting the GOP into an identity crisis. But with the ink barely dry on the 2012 ballots, it is puzzling that both parties would suddenly look to immigration as a way to lock in Latino support for 2016. Not only is immigration not completely synonymous with the Latino vote (not all Latinos are immigrants, not all immigrants are Latinos, and neither group blindly casts their ballot based solely on reform), but there's also the fact that some immigration reform has already happened -- just not in the way that Latinos or community advocates would have hoped.
The truth is that Republicans and Democrats have managed to work together on an immigration reform that divides families and destroys lives -- and Latino voters were acutely aware of this on November 6. While 7-in-10 Latinos supported Obama, I know for a fact that some of those votes, mine included, were reluctantly cast.
(Lest revealing my vote pigeonhole me as a party-line-towing Democrat, I will share that I've heartily voted for moderate Republicans in the past.)
Under Obama's watch, a supposedly divided Washington has managed to move forward the security aspects of immigration reform, pumping billions into border security (in 2010, the Department of Homeland Security's budget was $11.9 billion, doubled from the agency's inception in 2004). Boosted border security, among other factors, has brought unauthorized immigration from Mexico to the United States to a net zero. Those undocumented immigrants remaining in the United States are being steadily deported, to the tune of 400,000 each year since 2009, a number that is 30 percent higher than the annual average under Bush's second term. Approaches that purported a shift in enforcement priorities to dangerous, criminal immigrants -- Secure Communities and Prosecutorial Discretion among them -- have failed miserably. Latino Policy Forum analysis of ICE data shows that 57 percent of immigrants deported since 2007 have been non-criminals. And a 2011 Berkeley Law report revealed that the flawed Secure Communities program has thrust as many as 3,600 U.S. citizens into deportation proceedings.
Even Obama's much-lauded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) represents little more than an expensive bandage over a deep, divisive wound.
If both parties are ready to take immigration reform seriously, there is much to be done. Here's wisdom from the Latino Policy Forum's Immigration Acuerdo, a collaborative of eight immigrant-serving organizations in Chicago, on how both parties can make immigration reform right -- and do right by Latino voters:
• Adopt policies that promote family reunification and safeguard mixed-status families, reducing long waiting periods required to process visa petitions for relatives and offering benefits to extended relatives and same-sex families.
• Create a pathway to legal permanent residency and citizenship for those unauthorized immigrants -- both youth and adults -- who have lived and worked productively in this country for a number of years.
• Manage the flow of future migrant workers within the framework of international human rights via a well-designed guest worker program.
• Promote policies that work to fully integrate immigrants into the social, political, and economic activities of their communities.
• Espouse enforcement and security initiatives that differentiate between productive, essential immigrants and actual threats to security, such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking.
• Acknowledge and consider the impact that U.S. foreign and domestic policies have on the economic and political stability of foreign nations.
The bottom line: Both the GOP and the Dems are on thin ice with their new "'It' Demographic." It is critical that Washington's new love affair with immigration reform be something beyond lip service, that both parties reach across the aisle and tackle the comprehensive aspect of reform -- instead of enforcing broken laws, actually fixing them.