Immigration reform is set to be the key issue of 2014. Following Mitt Romney's dismal performance among Latino voters in the 2012 election, both sides of the Government woke up to the necessity for comprehensive reform on immigration. Indeed, in his State of the Union address in February, President Obama declared that “the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” Yet with the House divided over Obamacare and the budget crisis, the Government Shutdown let immigration reform die. 2014 will change that: and here are 4 Reasons Why.
1. Republican Support: A fundamental lack of support from the GOP has always been one of the major obstacles for passing comprehensive reform legislation, and indeed this seemed to be the case this year after the Bill passed by the Senate was struck down by Congress. However, more and more GOP members are realizing the significance of the Latino vote and understanding that passing comprehensive immigration reform is the most significant way of securing support from Latino voters.
A July poll from Latino Decisions found that immigration reform was the most important issue facing the Latino community for 60 percent of those surveyed. The poll also found that 70 percent of those questioned were dissatisfied with the job Republicans were doing on the issue. The survey also found the 39 percent would be more likely to support a Republican congressional candidate if immigration reform was passed with Republican leadership.
Republican candidates have become aware of the significance of immigration reform for the party. Even in traditionally conservative Republican strongholds like Texas, candidates are turning towards immigration reform. According to Republican strategist and CNN en Español commentator Juan Hernandez, "it also wouldn’t surprise me if after the primary, the candidates move to the center and support reform. For Republicans to stay in leadership in Texas, we must properly address immigration.”
The March 2014 primaries will be a key moment in determining how reform progresses: Republican Strategist John Feehery suggests, “The timing on this is very important. What was stupid to do becomes smart to do a little bit later in the year.” Once the primaries are over, GOP members will have the chance to implement reform legislation without fear of challenges from the right.
2. Legalization Over Citizenship: While the Senate’s 2013 immigration reform bill was struck down by Congress, GOP party members have indicated that they will support legislation which favors legalization of undocumented immigrants over a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, a recent survey from Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project demonstrated that 55 percent of Hispanic adults believe that legalizing immigrants and removing the fear of deportation is more important than a pathway to citizenship (although citizenship is still important to 89 percent of Latinos surveyed.)
As CBS suggests, “Numbers like these could give leverage to lawmakers who are interested in making some reforms to the legal immigration system, but not necessarily offering any kind of citizenship.”
If House Republicans offered legalization legislation for the undocumented community, this could put pressure on the President to compromise. And while this kind of reform would not be as comprehensive as the Senate’s bill, a bipartisan agreement would be a significant achievement towards accomplishing reform.
3. Activism Steps Up: 2013 saw one of the biggest surges in grassroots activism from immigration supporters, and political leaders started to listen. The hunger strike outside the White House was a particularly significant demonstration and drew visits of solidarity from a number of leaders from both sides of Congress, including the President and First Lady.
Immigration reform activists have promised "we will be back in 2014." Indeed, 2014 promises to be a year of even greater activism. Activist Eliseo Medina has pledged that immigrant advocacy groups would visit “as many congressional districts as possible” in 2014 to ensure further support.
Protests, rallies and marchers are likely to increase in 2014, putting greater pressure on Congress to pass legislation. Such visual, vocal protests will be key in ensuring comprehensive reform.
4. Leadership: As immigration reform comes to the fore, party leaders will step up in 2014 to ensure change is achieved. While President Obama has made clear his support for comprehensive reform, House Speaker John Boehner previously stated that he had “no intention” of negotiating with the Senate on their comprehensive immigration bill.
However, towards the end of 2013, it seemed that Representative Boehner was changing his tune. In November, President Obama revealed that “the good news is, just this past week Speaker Boehner said that he is “hopeful we can make progress” on immigration reform.” As if to prove the point, Boehner has recently hired top aide Rebecca Tallent to work on immigration reform.
With bipartisan leadership firmly focused on immigration reform and party members on both sides realizing the political importance of the issue, comprehensive legislation is one thing we can be sure of in 2014.