Nearly seven years ago, I covered the big immigration rallies of 2006 as a local reporter in Providence, Rhode Island. In solidarity, millions around the nation marched in support of overhauling the immigration system to incorporate those who for various reason were here in violation of our laws.
What surprised me wasn't that Republicans would the following year defeat their own President's reform proposal.
I didn't blink at the lack of sophistication and media savvy by some community advocates and Spanish-language DJs who did not discourage the display of flags from other nations at rallies calling for immigrants' full incorporation into America.
Baffling was the reaction of the media, politicians, and many Americans who just didn't know "where all these people came from?"
Well, just open your eyes, all around us are Latinos-not just immigrant maids, gardeners, and bus boys but their U.S.-born kids who became teachers, police officers, sales clerks, business owners, and doctors.
This last group is the segment leading the population boom and crucially, the growth of the electorate that is changing the political game.
This power is on display as this week turns out to be the most exciting on immigration in close to a decade: the so-called Gang of 8 Senators (Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Flake, Robert Menéndez, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Michael Bennett) has shed the disparaging nickname of the "Do Nothing" Congress by doing something, in this case presenting a framework to overhaul the immigration system.
Popular measures includes legalizing the so-called DREAMers-illegal immigrant students and military service members as well as "stapling a green card to the diplomas of foreigners" who graduate from science and technology programs. But the diablo is indeed in the details:
- a premium is placed on border security, although after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we are more secure than ever, according to a recent Migration Policy Institute report.
- a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million here illegally contingent on fines, civics and English classes, and "getting into the back of the line."
Why now? Senator Robert Menéndez summed it up on a Sunday public affairs show:
"First, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly Democrats want it. And fourth Republicans need it."
Is the deal done? Far from it with the road ahead a minefield littered with people who use "illegals" as a noun: Joe Arpaios, Jan Brewers, Kris Kobachs, Rush Limbaughs, and Sean Hannitys (who is for it after having been against an overhaul) of the world.
Today there is not just political momentum but a scrutiny by an emerging voting bloc that formed the key part of the coalition that delivered re-election to President Obama (who also outlined his immigration system overhaul ideas significantly in Nevada, a swing state he won because of Latino voters).
In the defeat of the GOP candidate by a three to one margin, Hispanic voters sent a clear message to our leaders:
No party can take the White House or the governor's mansion or the fancy wooden and leather seats in legislatures without the support of the people who clean them.
Or their kids.
Will an overhaul to the immigration laws happen and if so, in what form?