Lo and behold, the political glitterati have realized that new Americans actually vote. And that there are a whole lot of them.
To which Latinos, Asians and other new Americans respond, “Duh.”
But, this being an election year, let the pandering begin. Republicans talk about their love of “legal immigration,” decry federal opposition to unconstitutional state immigration laws, and point to President Obama’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first term. Strikingly, they don’t call attention to the fact that 36 Republican senators voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, including three who had co-sponsored earlier versions. Democrats hold up their support of the DREAM Act and past efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform as reasons they deserve the votes of new Americans. Of course, they selectively forget the Obama Administration has broken all deportation records by deporting more than a million immigrants in just over three years.
I would bet good money there will be a rush to file legislation serving one piece of the immigration puzzle or another: young people, agricultural workers, “high-skill” workers. Solving these areas of concern would serve the interests of the nation and must be addressed in potential legislation. And, yes, the Senate is in the best position to forge such a consensus.
But on the other side of the Capitol looms the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith. Let’s be honest: The chance of Lamar Smith allowing any practical pieces of immigration legislation through his committee is about as good as Harvard University winning the NCAA tourney (even if Jeremy Lin were still a student).
Want proof that congressional action is important? Look at what is happening in its absence. On April 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of Arizona’s “papers please” SB1070 immigration law. If the court rules in favor of Arizona, even more states may erect legislative fences on their borders, keeping business and both new and long-established Americans away. State politicians rally around such laws at their — and their state’s — peril, but the simple fact remains: The fabric of the nation will be torn because Congress has failed to fix our immigration system. How many Democrats will file friend of the court briefs to state their opposition to the bill? Will any Republican file an amicus brief opposing SB1070?
Mississippi and Missouri are poised to consider legislation similar to Arizona’s infamous SB1070 and its cousins in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, even as those states wait to hear whether their laws are constitutional. Will Republican leaders in Congress stand against these laws and exert their authority as federal lawmakers?
Or will Republicans continue to allow Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to be the faces of their immigration policy? On the Democratic side, the administration needs to fully implement improvements to the immigration enforcement system, including “prosecutorial discretion,” which prioritizes deporting drug lords over landscapers. Change is more than words. This political silly season, our elected leaders might think they’re handing out candy at Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year and Diwali parades all at once. But if candidates want to see a parade of new American voters heading their way, they must show political courage and get something done.
Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, and previously served as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). Reprinted with permission.