Congress, White House must now deliver on immigration reform

ADVERTISEMENT
Genuine leadership begins with common sense and moderate Republicans in the Senate and House standing up to the extreme voices of the remaining Tea Party and calling for not only compromise but also civility. Further, it means the Republican party meet with Democrats and the president to publicly show to the country that the mandate for bipartisanship is back in our nation’s capital. House Speaker John Boehner, exuding freedom from a weakened Tea Party wing, took a proactive step in the right direction announcing that a "comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

For Congress, Republicans especially, to regain the confidence of the people, it will require Senate and House leaders to convince their parties to create a better work environment with a competition of ideas rather than competing marketing campaign on each other’s failures. Simply putting a Latino face, like Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.) or Senator-elect Ted Cruz (R-Texas), will not cut it. This must also be an environment where, although there can be lively debate, we will not waste time debating things like whether or not it is practical to attempt to chase every undocumented valedictorian out of the country, and keep them out with an electrified fence as we heard during the primaries.

On policy, Republicans will steer into the reality lane. Talking points from Kris Kobach, author of SB1070 and other anti-Latino legislation, will no longer suffice. Kris Kobach may be a sharp-witted lawyer but he is on the wrong side of the law and polls. The border is more secure with more agents on the ground and unauthorized immigration is net zero and voters are no longer interested in immigration crackdowns: According to recent exit polls, an overwhelming majority of the American people support a path to permanent legalization for undocumented immigrants.  This means that a path to citizenship must be a fundamental component and anything less, including Sen. Rubio’s DREAM Act-lite, will simply put Republicans back in the mess that lost them (and will continue to lose them) the presidency, senate and house seats. There is plenty of room and opportunities for compromise in a comprehensive package, including budget, employee visas, border and interior security, and even establishing rigorous but sensible requirements for eventual citizenship.

The majority of the undocumented population has become integrated into the fabric of American culture, starting businesses and living an American lifestyle. Many undocumented youth (or “DREAMers”) consider the U.S. their home. A path to citizenship will encourage civic participation and increase tax revenue. And a revamped employee and family visa system will have in mind the country’s 21st century economic needs.  

During an interview with Jorge Ramos, President Obama took the difficult but brave stance that he was ultimately responsible for immigration not being taken up during his first term. The President took the first step of leadership admitting his shortcomings. Nevertheless, a re-elected and re-energized President Obama needs to show presidential leadership immediately. Promises will no longer cut it.

President Obama will back up his victory speech and propound a legislative blueprint so Congress can see action. Moreover, private and public meetings with community and business leaders, advocates, and DREAMers must consistently take place to ensure participation and confidence. Nothing exudes confidence than having the public see a leader reach out to the American people, specially those being affected.

On policy, president will lift the heavy burden of immigration enforcement from state and local police departments. His victory speech called for unity; so it is time for the police and the community to rebuild the trust that has been eroded due to counterproductive programs like Secure Communities and 287g. A strong link of trust between local, state, and federal law enforcement must be reinstated if they are to successfully combat terrorism and crime. A linked community is a safe community. Most importantly, perceptive and smart enforcement is required not enforcement that breaks families apart. Finally, in the event of congressional roadblocks, the president will take further executive action, as he did with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to cut the red tape and streamline the immediate needs of businesses and families.

The Republican Party has paid the price for bowing to the more extreme factions of its Tea Party base, especially on immigration. The Grand Old Party has a clear choice in 2013 whether to remain relevant or become obsolete. The Latino electorate sided with Democrats not out of demographics but because Latinos supported their message of fair opportunity and the American dream for 100 percent of Americans, documented or not. But Democrats also have a choice whether to stay strong with the Latino electorate or lose our support to a more practical and compassionate Republican party. 

Vargas is director of the DREAM (DRM) Action Coalition and national activist for the DREAM Act.