President Obama must be wishing he had passed immigration reform in his first year as he promised. Likewise, Republicans must be wishing that they had passed legislation six months ago instead of having it drag into the presidential primary season, which is beginning. Both sides have boxed themselves into positions that make it difficult to make a move without great political risk.
Few question the wisdom of the president’s latest executive action on immigration. The policy is fine; the concern is about procedure.
Whether the president is overstepping his authority is a debate left, for now, with constitutional attorneys. But everyone knows that immigration reform is necessary. At its best, executive action is only a temporary measure that cannot grant a new visa or raise money for much-needed border security.
Meaningful reform requires legislative action. It is going to require Republicans to make a smart choice, presenting a bill to be voted upon. They will look dumb if they don’t. That doesn’t mean Republicans can’t challenge the president’s authority; they can and they will. They can also enact legislation at the same time and move the country forward. Congressional leaders who care about 2016 should know that Hispanic voters are aware of this, too.
Recent electoral cycles are showing Hispanics are increasingly less loyal to any political party, and many, especially in swing states such as Florida, are registering Independent. It is a young population. As those born in the United States come of age, they are changing the political landscape by legally claiming their parents, many whom are among the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. You see?
With or without immigration reform, many undocumented are becoming citizens, but there is a better way to do it than by marginalizing these otherwise good families. Ignored for decades, is it any wonder Hispanic voters feel slighted by both parties? They have long been taken for granted.
Democrats are worried because losing Hispanic support will hurt them, as they are a critical component of the party’s coalition of support, especially in presidential elections. Hispanic voters felt marginalized by Democrats in the midterm election, and many districts gave 40 percent or more of their support to Republicans, in part because the GOP had a better ground game than before.
Today, Hispanic voters increasingly are swing voters, which could present a problem for Democrats in more ways than one. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, The Latino Coalition and the American Principles in Action released a study showing that registered Democrats who were born in a foreign country tend to be more conservative than those who were born in the United States. The study also shows that only 50 percent of foreign-born voters identify with any political party and 24 percent that are Democrats say they lean more conservative than liberal.
What does this have to do with immigration reform? While never at the top of the list of priorities for Hispanic voters like jobs, the economy and education tend to be, the immigration debate is an important measure of the value Washington leadership places on this growing and influential community. Immigration law is a clear indication of how Republicans and Democrats value the contributions made by immigrants and Hispanics in particular.
Though the tone of the debate is important, the substance must show Hispanics that they are valued and that there is the desire to see them grow and flourish. As they are less loyal to any one political party, Hispanics will reward those leaders who support and value their hard work and heritage.
There is so much on the line for the nation these next two years, and Obama’s executive action is not helpful. Its viability will be decided in the court system, as Texas and other states will step forward to challenge the president’s authority on this issue. Meanwhile, real immigration reform is still needed, one that is based on new laws that are in keeping with the nation’s 21st-century economic needs, including guest-worker visas and better border security.
We don’t have that now. What we do have is a broken immigration system that creates the kind of gridlock that we all disdain. The problem isn’t new, but it sure is getting old.