By Marc A. Wites, Wites & Kapetan, P.A.
In recent years legal status, and an eventual pathway to citizenship, for millions of hard working illegal immigrants has been repeatedly blocked by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Even when President George W. Bush attempted to overhaul the United State’s immigration policy with the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, his efforts were blocked by his fellow republicans in Congress. However, with the re-election of President Barack Obama, who won 71% of the Latino vote, the Republicans are changing their tune.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York announced that he and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham are working with their colleagues to reach a consensus on immigration reform, and hope to pass a new law this year. Although short on details, Schumer explained that the plan will include first securing the borders to prevent more illegal immigration; providing legal immigrants with proper documentation required for employment; allowing immigration for those that contribute to the US economy, whether as engineers or farm workers; and establishing a pathway to citizenship the requires immigrants to learn English, have a job, not commit crimes and “go to the back of the line.” The Republican House Speaker John Boehner made similar comments in a recent interview with ABC News, stating that he was confident that President Obama and the Congress can find common ground to resolve the country’s immigration issues.
The Republicans apparent softening position on immigration is a one hundred and eighty degree turn from their past. In 2007 when Bush’s immigration bill failed, 37 Republicans voted against it. They complained that allowing what Republicans have termed “amnesty” would reward lawbreakers who entered the country illegally.
The same sentiment prevented President Obama from passing immigration reform during his first term. As a result, President Obama signed an Executive Order that created a new program called Deferred Action, which is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“U.S.C.I.S”). It allows qualifying individuals to apply for deferred deportation action for two years, subject to renewal. Many of its provisions mirror those in the proposed “Dream Act” which Senate Republicans blocked in 2010, but which remained a prominent item on the President’s agenda. While not identical to the Dream Act, the newly-announced program is available to individuals who (1) are at least sixteen years old, but no older than thirty, (2) have been brought to the U.S. Before they were sixteen, (3) have lived in the U.S. For at least the five continuous years before their application, and (4) be currently enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, received a G.E.D., or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces.
Many believe that it was this Executive Order, which demonstrated President Obama’s commitment to the immigrant community that allowed Democrats to win the Latino vote and secure the President’s re-election. Attorney Alex Kapetan of Wites & Kapetan agrees. Mr. Kapetan, who directs Wites & Kapetan’s immigration practice, explained that South American immigrants are smart, hard working people, and they are well aware that it was the Republicans that for years have blocked immigration reform. “The Republicans ignored the practical reality that you just can’t round up 11 million people and send them back to their home country, and likewise ignored that those Americans of Latino descent would not look kindly upon Republican obstructionism and would show their displeasure at the polls”, stated Kapetan.
Republicans seem to feel that Mitt Romney’s defeat is a message from the Latino community. Whether because they realize that to win future elections in the United States will require a candidate to have the support of the immigrant community, or because they have realized that millions of illegal immigrants already here simply want to work, pay taxes and support their families, its seems that real change may be on the horizon. Most Americans agree that we must secure our borders, stop illegal immigration, and deport those that enter our country illegally. At the same time, the country’s current illegal immigrant population is here because the United States failed to enact and enforce immigration laws that would stop illegal immigration and reward those that come to America and contribute to our great country. Let us hope that the Republicans have realized that they must work with Democrats to find solutions to all of America’s problems, and perhaps we’ll find that comprehensive immigration reform is on the top of their list.
Marc A. Wites is an attorney with Wites & Kapetan, P.A., a South Florida based law firm with offices throughout the country. The firm’s practice areas include immigration, and their staff speaks Spanish and Portuguese.