With the budget deficit declining by about 50% and the economy continuing to improve, concerns over our national debt have eased—at least for now. Less emphasis on the deficit has reduced the expected focus on entitlement-spending reform and helped bring immigration reform to the forefront. Most people feel that it’s one area where there’s room for compromise in Washington. Democrats and Republicans both agree that the current law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, is woefully inadequate. Republicans argue that it’s extremely important to beef up border security, while Democrats assert that that there must be a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Both parties have members who oppose immigration reform for different reasons. Some organized labor affiliates remain concerned that not granting citizenship forces those workers who are here illegally to be exploited and depresses wages for everyone else. Republicans bemoan the fact that providing a path to legal status, undermines the integrity of law, and rewards those who broke the law at the expense of those who came to this country legally.
Many Americans are torn on the issue. They recognize that we lack the will and the resources to deport 11 million people. And they also realize that many of these people have family members living in the United States and close ties to their churches and communities. Business constituencies, particularly in agriculture, are dependent upon immigration labor. Indeed, many of these businesses say that they would have to close their farms and processing facilities because there aren’t enough Americans willing to do the work. Other business groups have relied on well-educated foreign workers, many of whom have studied at American universities. They’re considered a valuable skilled-labor resource, one that makes a significant contribution to the economy.
The politics of immigration reform are difficult but have mostly benefited the Democrats. Hispanic and Asian voters are the fastest growing segment of the US electorate, and the immigration issue resonates with them both as a matter of policy and as a statement of how well they’re embraced in this country. They’re rapidly become a major Democratic voting bloc. Republicans’ efforts to appeal to this demographic through their conservative, family-oriented culture aren’t working. That’s because their appeal has been overshadowed by their perceived hostility toward immigration amnesty. It’s made Asian and Hispanic voters feel like Republicans don’t care about them.