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The Time Is Now

by Marshall Fitz

The anti-immigrant storm unleashed in the House of Representatives during the last Congress threatened to beat an unstoppable path to the President's desk. Fortunately, the Senate's commitment to a bipartisan proposal offering real solutions, not cheap political sound bites, served as an effective bulwark against the storm's surge. The hurricane that immigration restrictionists were banking on petered out into little more than a summer shower and now, with a new Congress under way, the winds of true immigration reform are in our sails.

What started out in December 2005 as a potentially epic disaster for immigration policy has evolved into an opportunity of equally historic proportions. To those who have followed the treacherous course of this debate, such optimism may sound Pollyannaish, but this assessment is grounded in post-election political realities. The leadership teams of the 110th Congress have shown clear signs that they have internalized three key electoral lessons from the 2006 campaign.

First, the election results demonstrated that Americans will not be hoodwinked by efforts to demagogue this issue. House Republican leadership tried and failed to leverage illegal immigration into a wedge issue, but losses by high-profile restrictionist candidates and extensive exit polling confirmed the findings of numerous pre-election surveys: Americans take a pragmatic view of this issue and overwhelmingly reject an "enforcement-only" approach in favor of a practical, comprehensive model for immigration reform.

Second, the Latino vote swung strongly back towards Democrats in this election, due in no small part to the immigration issue and what Latinos saw as the vilification of immigrants in Republican-backed immigration proposals. The Democratic Party has been presented with an historic opportunity to show their commitment to Latino issues by moving ahead with immigration reform. But a failure to advance comprehensive legislation would throw the loyalty of the Latino electorate right back up for grabs.

Third, Independents voted for Democrats in record numbers because of frustration with the Republican-controlled Congress's failure to make headway on priority voter issues. With discontent over our inept immigration system boiling over, reform has become a top-tier voter issue. A failure by Democrats to make headway on this issue could lead Independents to roll back away from them in 2008.

It would be naive to think that simply because the lessons are self-evident, our elected politicians will heed them. This writer's optimism, however, rises from the unmistakable signals emerging from House and Senate leadership that they consider comprehensive reform a legislative priority and that they have, in fact, learned the foregoing lessons.

The anti-immigrant storm may not have subsided completely, but this time the political winds are with us. We may encounter choppy waters, but reform cannot wait, and we will press on. Congress must and, I believe, will pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. Now is the time, so let's all get on board and enjoy the ride.

Reprinted with Permission from AILA.

About The Author

Marshall Fitz is Director of Advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). He leads AILA's lobbying and coalition-building efforts in furtherance of fair and reasonable immigration-related policies.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.