Immigration reform is needed to secure the work force and give farmers and agribusinesses confidence in employing minorities.
Comprehensive immigration reform spurred by election
Immigration reform is at the point where most in Washington expect it to be one of the few major issues lawmakers deal with. The November elections played a part in pushing this issue down a path that might lead to the completion of a comprehensive package in the next 18 months.
President Barack Obama’s 2012 election victory was due in no small part to minorities. Latinos accounted for 10% of the vote, with Obama winning 69% and GOP challenger Mitt Romney capturing 29% of the Hispanic vote. This was a major shift from when George W. Bush was reelected and won 42% of the Hispanic vote.
A good example of the impact of Hispanic voters is Florida, where Latinos accounted for nearly one in every five voters. The vote for Obama from Latinos is no surprise given his immigration-related announcement in the months prior to the election that helped curry favor with this voter segment.
Minorities continue to rise in numbers, growing by about two percentage points with every presidential election. Latinos account for three-fifths of that growth. That’s why this group has become such a focus, and it is clear their role will not diminish as things move forward, and will increase in states like Texas and Arizona.
Keys to Reform. Any final package developed in Congress has to achieve several goals and address several key issues.
Border security: This issue is seen as a nod to those who want stepped-up vigilance to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the U.S. The focus is mostly on the states that border Mexico.
Verification program: The problem here is how to prove whether someone is in the U.S. legally or not. While current rules put the onus on employers to verify documents, it’s clear that this system has pitfalls. Also needing to be addressed is the "underground" market for Social Security cards and other documentation that some illegal immigrants have purchased for hefty sums.
Seasonal farm workers: It is estimated that 60% to 70% of seasonal farm workers are illegal immigrants.
Children of illegal immigrants: Obama’s announcement deferring the deportation of those who were in the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 but who have a high school degree or honorable discharge from the military and are not a felon was in response to Congress’ failure to approve immigration reform such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM). A more permanent program is needed to address this growing segment of the population.
Already Present. This is perhaps the most important aspect of immigration reform, as it’s estimated that 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. Republicans will not go along with automatic amnesty. The most likely scenario is one where illegal immigrants would have to:
1. register with the government as part of their pathway to citizenship.
2. pay a fine of some sort for being in this country illegally.
3. pay federal income taxes on wages they earn, providing an infusion of dollars into the U.S. government.
4. get in line behind those who have a current green card or worker permit, which could mean a wait of up to 10 years.
This puts an economic link on the immigration issue, one that lawmakers pushing for reform will no doubt use to "sell" this plan to the public and resistant lawmakers.
Whatever is finally agreed to, the pathway to citizenship for this component of our society will still be a long one. That likely means that only those who truly want to be a part of this great nation will be the ones to get in line.
- January 2013