This Sunday, tens of thousands of people plan to march on the National Mall in Washington, DC in an effort to persuade Congress and the Obama administration to tackle immigration reform in 2010. More than 700 buses are bringing an estimated 100,000 supporters to the nation’s capital for the March for America. Participants are hoping to show strength in numbers on the ground, and flex muscle on Capitol Hill as well.
Advocacy groups are organizing countless phone banks and Congressional office visits to encourage lawmakers to support a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States.
On top of that, immigrant rights supporters are eager to note that President Barack Obama promised to overhaul the immigration system during his campaign, and said that immigration reform would be a “top priority in my first year as President of the United States of America.” But now that year has passed, and with Congress still deadlocked on health care and economic issues, reform supporters just can’t wait any longer.
While an immigration reform bill has been proposed in the House of Representatives, the same can’t be said for the Senate. If the Senate fails to propose a reform bill this Spring, it won’t be on the agenda for 2010 either. With elections at the end of the year, there’s an aura of uncertainty over how possible it will be to pass reform after that, since the resulting congress could be more conservative.
Keeping a promise
For Obama and the Democratic lawmakers, keeping the promise of immigration reform could be essential to their political future. As Feministing noted this week, “the March is meant to send a message to Congress: immigration reform cannot wait. It’s also a message to President Obama to keep good on his word and push immigration reform.”
Obama’s promise to reform the immigration system helped earn him 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, exit polls show. Latinos—who make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing minority in the nation–also delivered Democratic victories in states like Colorado, Florida, and Ohio during that same year.
But with 81 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States originating from Latin America, a failure to take action on immigration reform could prove disastrous for Democrats and the White House. Numerous polls show that Latino voters want immigration reform, in part because nearly 9 million people in the country live in “mixed-homes,” where some family members are documented and others are not, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
In a story about the upcoming march, TPMDC reports that “organizers of the rally have a simple retort for Democrats: pass reform now, or lose Latino support in November.” The news site quotes march organizer Gabe Gonzalez, who expresses frustration with the slow movement on immigration reform. “I cannot tell you how angry and outraged people are,” she says. “I have conversations with my progressive friends and they’re always surprised at how visceral it is.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative politicians who do not have a reputation for embracing immigration reform are trying to change course. The population of Latino voters will only continue to grow as children of undocumented immigrants reach voting age. Both Republicans and Democrats are fighting to secure that demographic as a reliable voting bloc.
In 2003, 63 percent of the 4.3 million children born to undocumented parents in the U.S. were citizens. By 2008, there were 5.5 million children in the same situation and 73 percent of them were born in the country. This new generation signifies what could be a significant political shift as Latinos continue to gain prominence and influence in the U.S.
There is a rift on the right when it comes to immigration, as AlterNet explains. “One segment of the Republican Party completely understands that critical political fact. They understand that to compete successfully in the future — on a national scale — they must be able to contest for a sizeable segment of the Hispanic vote. … But there is another group of Republicans who want to use immigration as wedge issue to win short-term political advantage among anxious voters who think of Latinos as threats to their culture, their tax dollars, and their jobs.”
Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks notes that both sides of the immigration argument are very passionate. “You got a lot of people in the country saying ‘Aw, we need a border fence, and the damn immigrants are taking our jobs, etc.,’” he says. “On the other side you have people who are in favor of immigration, making it into some sort of sane system.”
Although reform supporters are hopeful that a bill will be proposed in the Senate this Spring, whether it will have a wide bipartisan backing remains to be seen. But with changing demographics and an organized movement for reform, passing immigration reform would empower a reliable–and organized–voting block that is growing more significant by each election. In the end, it could change the political climate of the United States for generations to come.
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