There is a renewed bipartisan effort underway in Washington to push forward significant reforms to our nation’s current immigration laws, and Arizona’s two senators are at the forefront of this movement.
On Monday, a bipartisan coalition of four Democratic and four Republican senators, including Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain announced a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. The senators’ plan is based on “four pillars.” First, the senators propose the establishment of a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in this country, as well as a corresponding effort to continue developing border security. Second, the plan proposes offering more green cards to foreign born graduates of U.S. universities in science, technology, math and engineering fields. Next, the senators argue that employers must be held accountable for hiring undocumented workers. And finally, the proposed plan includes a guest worker program for industries that can not find enough workers among U.S. citizens.
Monday’s announcement marks the first time in recent memory that Republican lawmakers have exhibited a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that has long been more popular among Democrats. Many argue that the Republican Party’s new willingness to at least consider compromise on this issue stems from election losses last November, including Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in the presidential race, which have been attributed in part to votes cast by Latino individuals.
In an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” McCain expressed concern about the Latino vote. “Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got to understand that,” McCain said. Still, the Republican senator admitted that immigration reform is necessary from a practical standpoint as well, saying “We can’t go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status.”
Still, not all Republican lawmakers are ready to jump on the growing immigration reform bandwagon. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith for example immediately rejected the proposal as “amnesty” and an encouragement of “illegal immigration.”
On the other end of the spectrum many immigration reform advocates and immigrant rights leaders are themselves expressing skepticism about the proposal. These groups are critical of the continued focus on beefing up security at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as stipulations that place too much responsibility for enforcement of new laws in the hands of state lawmakers and law enforcement officers. This means that staunch opponents of immigration reform like Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be responsible for ensuring that undocumented immigrants are put on the appropriate path to citizenship.
Monday’s announcement from the Senate comes one day before President Obama is himself expected to make an announcement regarding his own push for immigration reform during a visit to Las Vegas. Obama has already stated that immigration reform will be one of the most important priorities of his second term.