Rob Horowitz: Progress on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


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The recent unveiling of the bi-partisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act is a concrete sign of progress in the fight to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The eight sponsors include some of the most respected and powerful members of the Senate and an even mix of Republicans and Democrats. Another encouraging sign is that this group of eight Senators put their considerable egos aside and made the sound strategic decision to informally designate one of the sponsors, Marco Rubio (R-FL), as the main spokesman for the legislation. As a rising conservative star and likely 2016 Presidential candidate, Rubio is best positioned to succeed in neutralizing conservative opposition to the legislation.

This legislation aims to fix our broken immigration system by paving the way for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already here to emerge from the shadows and fully participate in American life, opening up our doors more widely through expanded legal immigration targeted to attract the world’s best and brightest, and stepping up enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration. More specifically, it creates a tough, but achievable path to citizenship. It offers sensible interim steps, permitting undocumented immigrants already here in the nation to immediately emerge from the shadows. It also expands the number of visas available for highly skilled workers while providing them with a smoother path to permanent residency, steps up enforcement, and tightens border security.

The political context producing this comprehensive, bi-partisan Senate bill is the lasting influence of the results of the 2012 Presidential election, where President Obama defeated Mitt Romney 71% to 27% among Latino voters. Republican strategists and elected officials recognize that they must do better among this growing part of the electorate that already accounts for more than one-out-of-ten voters if they are going to win future Presidential contests.

This same political imperative gives this legislation, with some tweaks, a good chance of becoming law. But its path is not without hurdles. As observers such as the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein have noted the strong national incentives for the Republican Party to shift its position on immigration are not necessarily echoed for all Republican Senators and House members, many of whom represent conservative states and districts where support for comprehensive immigration reform may create fertile soil for primary challenges.

Fortunately, opponents of the legislation, despite concerted efforts, have not persuaded the public that the Boston Marathon bombings are a reason to put the brakes on immigration reform. According to a recent national Pew Poll, “most (adults) do not think the Boston Marathon bombings should be an important factor in the debate over immigration legislation. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say the Boston attack and the immigration debate are mostly separate issues, while 36% say the attack should be an important factor in the debate."

Still, strong opponents on the right are mobilizing including The Heritage Foundation led by former South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint and some talk radio hosts. Further, if the bill passes the Senate it will still need to clear the House where there are more pockets of resistance.

The good news, however, is that there is a formidable coalition of support to counter this opposition including the Chamber of Commerce and the high technology industry–organizations and businesses that have sway among Republicans–among others.

Immigrants bring needed new ideas and economic energy to our nation. This is especially important now to accelerate the economic recovery and to better position us to compete for the long-term in a tough global economy where skilled workers are at a premium. That is why it is so important to build on this promising beginning and speedily adopt comprehensive immigration reform.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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