Prospects for action on a revamping of immigration policy continue to brighten after President Obama's second inaugural speech. Addressing the subject, the President said, "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."
His comments were no surprise. The issue has gained significant attention since the election. The Latino vote in 2012 broke decisively for President Obama by a margin of 71-27%. This continued the trend of Latinos voting increasingly for Democrats after President Bush gathered 40% of the Latino vote in 2004. Many Republican strategists and policymakers feel that their party's oft-times harsh rhetoric on immigration is a major contributing factor to this trend. More importantly, they argue that the continued demographic changes in the U.S. population make it a political imperative to improve the party's standing with minority voters, especially with Latinos.
As the 113th Congress begins this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that comprehensive immigration reform legislation will be at the top of the Senate's agenda. And leading Republicans, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), are already working to gather support for various immigration proposals that deal with undocumented workers. That doesn't necessarily portend an easy path for immigration reform in the new Congress. Many Republicans in Congress still oppose any pathway to citizenship and the demographics of their individual districts actually act as a disincentive to embrace any proposals that contain such a pathway.
Even if a compromise on a pathway to citizenship or legal status can be reached, there are a myriad of other tough issues that will complicate passage of immigration reform such as H1-B visas that are critical to high-tech and other industries, enforcement priorities and border security. Nevertheless, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue recently stated, "I'm optimistic that this time we have an excellent shot at getting immigration reform done."
Look for the Obama Administration and Congressional supporters of immigration reform to push for a comprehensive approach, while Republicans try to break up any proposal into separate bills that don't alienate significant portions of Republican lawmakers.
The White House has indicated that it will make an early push for immigration reform but many expect the full time and attention of both the Administration and the Congress to be focused on the impending Debt Limit, Continuing Resolution and Sequestration deadlines looming in the next 60 days.