What Is Immigration Reform?
Most people don't like to make predictions. No one likes to be wrong. But making predictions is a fundamental part of legal representation. Every day we tell clients that if they don't do this then that probably will happen. We tell them you better do this or else this is very likely going to be the result. These are all predictions as advice to act.
TLF has been tracking the possibility of immigration reform since 100,000 people marched past its Wilshire Boulevard offices more than six years ago. While the Bush administration advocated reform, it was clear it would not happen. And even though Obama campaigned for it in 2008, the Republicans were completely against it. As a result, the issue has been a non-starter for the past four years.
But now everything has changed. Immigration reform will pass in 2013 and change the lives of millions of people living in the United States. This is a prediction as advice to act. This is the first time TLF has predicted the passage of this long-overdue and important legislation. If you are an undocumented resident you must prepare now.
The meaning of "reform" is an understanding and belief that people who have been living in the US without documents should be provided with a "pathway to citizenship". It will be a process by which people whose status is "illegal" will be able to become "legal" and, over time, gain citizenship. This Pathway is coming and everyone affected needs to plan for its arrival. The line is going to be very long and those who prepare in advance will have to wait less, pure and simple.
What is going to happen this year is this: the US Congress will pass a new law in order create the Pathway. What the law is going to require still needs to be ironed out between the two political parties. But it will become law in 2013.
Most likely the Pathway will include some combination of registering with the government, showing how long you have stayed in the US, a promise to pay back taxes, an ability to speak English, and whatever else they decide to throw into the mix, like the payment of fines, etc. When that is accomplished, the person will be given legal status to stay and work in the US and go to the back of the line for citizenship. It is estimated the Pathway to citizenship will require about 10 years from start to finish from the time of registration/qualification to the swearing in of a newly minted US citizen.
Why Is Immigration Reform Going To Become Law In 2013
The last massive change to immigration law was a general amnesty permitting most everyone in the US to simply apply and obtain citizenship. A general amnesty like '86 will not happen this time around. There is no support for it on either side of the political aisle.
So why is the Pathway going to happen now? The reasons are varied but the most obvious and important is that the Republican Party understands they have no chance to win any presidential election in the foreseeable future unless they change their position on immigration reform.
Obama was one of the least likely incumbent presidents to ever win re-election because the economy was so bad. But he did and the post-election demographics indicate it was in large part due to the Hispanic vote.
During the 2008 election there were 19.5 million Hispanics eligible to vote. Obama won 67% of their vote. Seeking to take further advantage of this dramatic and substantial Hispanic support, the Democrats worked to register as many Hispanics as they could prior to the 2012 election. The Republicans, on the other hand, tried to limit registration and do whatever they could to ensure the smallest possible turnout.
Hispanics currently make up 16% of the US population. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the US. Hispanics made up 10% of all votes cast during the last presidential election. Of those votes, an overwhelming 71% voted for Obama while only 27% voted for Romney.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections there was a 26% increase in Hispanics registered to vote. The trends are all simply lining up against the Republicans: more Hispanic citizens registered to vote means more of them are voting each cycle while the percentage of those votes cast is increasingly lining up against the Republicans. Unless and until these numbers drastically change, the Republican Party's chances of regaining the White House simply diminishes each day.
This new reality has been acknowledged by the Republicans. This is how Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union put it recently:
"We could have won this election if the (Republican) party had a better brand name with Hispanics. I don't believe there's a path to the White House in the future that doesn't include 38 percent to 40 percent Hispanic support."
The leader of the Republican Party, Speaker of the House John Boehner, publicly stated his own support for comprehensive immigration reform after the November 2012 presidential election. This marked a major shift away from the staunch, anti-immigration Republican position exemplified by Romney's "self-deportation" presidential campaign position. Boehner said in an interview with ABC World News:
"This issue has been around far too long. A comprehensive approach is long overdue and I'm confident that the president, myself, and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
On January 14, 2013 Republican "superstar" Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for the first time ever endorsed the concept of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants working in the US. That's not really a big surprise because the numbers don't lie and Rubio has been saying since the election the Republicans need to do something. The reality of the rapidly changing electorate can be seen most starkly in Florida, where at least 23% of the population is Hispanic and where the Democrats won, again, in 2012.
The real surprise came when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) then came out in support of Rubio's plan. Ryan, who was Romney's vice presidential running mate and ran on a platform of anti-immigration reform, has now seen the light and simply changed his position about the Pathway. Mr. Ryan, also a 2016 presidential hopeful, wrote on his Facebook page in January 2013:
"Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system. I support the principles he's outlined: modernization of our immigration laws, stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works. "
And this is what Rubio stated his plan to be:
"Here is how I envision it: they would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check. They would be fingerprinted. They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they've been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country. "
These sentiments represent a sea change for the Republican Party. They have no choice but to pass immigration reform this year in order to set themselves up for the mid-term elections in 2014 and the presidential election of 2016. The electorate demographics are changing so quickly there is even speculation Texas could change from red to blue in 2016 because of the Hispanic vote there. The Republicans understand they need to do something and they are: the Pathway.
It's all about the numbers. Obama won Nevada and Colorado because of the Hispanic vote, garnering 70% of it in Nevada and 75% of it in Colorado. He won Florida because of the Hispanic vote. Hispanic political influence is growing in those and other states. The Republicans are so far behind that they know if they don't support immigration reform they are slitting their own political throats. That is why three of the most prominent and ambitious acolytes of the Republican Party—Boehner, Rubio and Ryan—have all publically come out in support of the Pathway in the first month of 2013. The Republicans need the Pathway as much as the Pathway needs the Republicans. Those who opposed reform through this last election cycle have no choice but to now embrace it. This is the new political reality and this is why TLF is sure immigration reform is going to pass in 2013.
Besides the political expediency and necessity causing the Republican Party's profound policy shift, there are other reasons the Pathway will become law in 2013. For instance, the Great Recession resulted in a decline of undocumented immigrants to the US for the first time in generations. Their numbers have declined every year since 2008 after decades of steady, annual increases of both documented and undocumented immigrants. There can be no better time to reform immigration policy then when the tide is receding.
The Great Recession also caused all governments, from local municipalities to the federal government, to become cash strapped to the point of insolvency. In short, government at all levels needs the money. They recognize the opportunity to bring a billion dollar off-the-books economy into the fold. The Pathway is going to be good for government's bottom line. More legal residents and citizens mean more tax revenue pure and simple.
The Obama administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any other administration in history: 1.4 million as of September 2012, representing a 50% increase over the previous high number under the Bush administration.
What all of this means is a perfect political storm for immigration reform. The Republicans are in desperate need to reform their image in the eyes of Hispanics in order to maintain a semblance of relevancy. The number of immigrants of all types is declining. Obama promised reform and was elected twice with that platform. He desperately wants to deliver on those as yet unfulfilled promises. And no one in Congress can accuse this Administration of being soft on "illegal immigrants" because of Obama's record setting deportations. In short, everything is coming together, right now, for immigration reform to pass this session of Congress in 2013.
Undocumented immigrants living in the US live in the shadows, fearful of being deported. Ask almost anyone who was born in another country and they know someone who has been deported. People are scared, and rightfully so. Undocumented residents are going to be very cautious before they give up their anonymity to start the process of registering with the government.
This is where Tepper Law Firm will help. TLF will serve as the buffer between the government process and those undocumented residents who want to become documented. TLF will explain the process and help in every step onto the Pathway. We will help fill out the paperwork correctly and ensure it gets to the right place on time. When the government has questions or requires anything we will be the ones who will be informed of their inquiries and who will answer their questions by working with our clients. The Pathway is coming and TLF wants to help everyone who wants to travel down it to reach their ultimate goal.