The rapidly changing mood in Washington on immigration, particularly evident in the willingness of prominent Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to challenge die-hard opponents of reform within their own party, represents a significant milestone in the long fight to ensure fairness for everyone living within America's borders.
Rarely has the power of the vote on a divisive national issue been so evident and so immediate. And so useful. The turnaround comes as a direct consequence of a quadrennial election in which President Barack Obama won a second term after capturing 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, forcing immigration opponents to confront reality.
As Sen. John McCain acknowledged recently, We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours. Welcome to the future, sir. Immigration advocates have been insisting all along that the issue is one of fairness, given that undocumented immigrants perform a vital service by taking low-wage jobs that keep the economy humming but which many Americans shun.
In good times, they provide cheap manpower for building booms. They toil on our farms, clean our yards and homes, wash our cars and our clothes, even look after our children and elderly parents -- but are relegated to the shadows because of unrealistic immigration laws that deny them a chance to move up the ladder.
This week, the fairness argument and the political argument finally came together as eight senators of both parties -- including Sen. Rubio and Sen. McCain -- offered a joint plan to reform immigration, with President Obama applauding their plan and offering his own blueprint to bring 11 million undocumented residents out of the shadows.
The willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion is encouraging. It's the way Congress should work. But even though the moment is ripe for change, this is far from a done deal. The tactic of endless hearings and procedural wrangling almost killed health-care reform and will doubtlessly be tried again to kill an immigration overhaul.
Supporters of change must be prepared to overcome this likely obstacle.
For the moment, it is important to note that the bipartisan ideas put forward propose a sweeping reform instead of the slower step-by-step approach that would have been far less effective. This alone is a victory for reform advocates.
The Miami Herald