By Andy Garcia
The last time the United States had an immigration reform was back in 1990 when Congress passed a law allowing as many as 700,000 new immigrants annually. But the most well known immigration reform of the last few decades was the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986. Simpson- Mazzoli was signed into law by President Reagan, and it provided amnesty to over 3 million undocumented immigrants. For over three decades the country has been debating effective ways to deal with the growing influx of undocumented immigrants arriving to America every year. Today, we are adding to our history by facilitating the closure of a debate that has gone on for far too long.
President Obama promised in his reelection campaign to reform the broken immigration system. Politicians from both sides of the aisle took the message seriously and two weeks after his election the debate became headlines on national news. However, the immigration issues the nation faces today are not the same ones president Reagan had to face in 1986, or the ones covered under the Late Amnesty of 2000.
According to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics there are approximately 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. Most of the unauthorized immigrants are clustered in three states: California with 25%, Texas with 16% and Florida with 6%. They make up 4% of the U.S population and 5% of the labor force. Although some have gone back due to the poor economy, the majority still remains here.
Recently we have seen some conservative politicians come out in support of what they call “a comprehensive immigration reform” that will tackle the deficiencies in the system as a prerequisite for legalization. Marco Rubio is leading the bipartisan coalition known as the “gang of eight” that is seeking a viable solution to the problem. Rubio’s proposal is backed by key Republicans like senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and John McCain and Jeff Flake from Arizona. However, Hispanics are still concerned with the labeling and tone used by the “gang of eight” when addressing immigration.
The Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right organization based in DC, sent a memo to politicians in Washington with a list of “Do’s and Dont’s” for the GOP when it comes to the immigration issue. The suggestion list is headlined by the request to not use the term “illegal” when referring to what the organization prefers to call “undocumented.” According to HLN, most Hispanics are very sensitive with the wording used by politicians. Replacing a word can have significant meaning and will more than likely determine if Hispanics will keep listening or turn their backs on the message.
The memo also warned policymakers to never say that they are “against amnesty” since that can be misinterpreted as “being against any type of reform.” The suggestion I found most interesting was a recommendation not to talk about “a pathway to citizenship,” but to use instead the term “earned legal status.” The reasoning behind this suggestion, according to Jennifer Korn the executive director of HLN, is that the proposed reform is offering a temporary work visa and it will take years for a person to be able to acquire permanent legal status and many more years before finally becoming a citizen.
The immigration debate has reached the national stage and everything points to both parties coming to agreement on the issue. Hispanics across the nation realize this is not an easy task for our policymakers, but we remain optimistic that the time has come to get serious. The ideal law will serve America’s interests while reminding the world that we still are a compassionate country. Now the question is: How long will it take for Washington to get things done?