As President Obama begins his second term, one thing is abundantly clear: he will aggressively seek Congress' approval of commonsense immigration reform. The country's economy will benefit from it and so will workers.
Those of us pushing for immigration reform are under no illusion that the process will be easy. We face legislative opposition from immigration restrictionists who remain steadfast against reform.
But the building blocks for bipartisan immigration reform are falling into place. Since the November election, when the strength of the Latino vote was seen by Democrats and Republicans, the question of immigration reform has shifted from "whether" it would be done to "what" it will be.
Thanks to a new poll conducted by Democratic and Republican pollsters, we now know what U.S. voters think it should be.
A solid 77 percent of voters favor a full package of immigration reforms, including a roadmap to citizenship, according to a poll of 1,000 voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, and Hart Research Associates, a Democratic firm. The poll -- sponsored by Service Employees International Union, America's Voice Education Fund, and National Immigration Forum -- confirms our strong belief that fixing the broken immigration system is not just a Latino priority, but also a high priority for the American people. A long-lasting program with accountability and a path to citizenship is what voters want; and it is not the third rail of politics that politicians have long feared.
Across party lines and ethnic groups, support for the plan is solid. As Jeb Bush, Jr., said during our news conference announcing the poll results, "Americans of all political stripes agree that the current patchwork of immigration policies is not working for our nation's best interests. I'm encouraged to see that a strong majority of Republican voters recognize the need for a long term solution that includes a path to citizenship. It's time for national leaders to get their cues from the American people."
The plan in the survey includes fines for employers who hire undocumented workers and ensuring that unscrupulous employers do not take advantage of undocumented laborers; allowing undocumented workers with no criminal record to work toward citizenship if they learn English and pay taxes; and strengthening border security.
Voters are way ahead of Congress on the issue of immigration reform.
In every region of our nation -- north, east, west and the conservative South, where states such as Alabama and Georgia approved racial profiling, anti-immigrant laws -- voters say they are more likely to vote for their member of Congress if the member has voted for the complete reform plan that has been outlined. Republicans and Democrats want their representatives to vote for immigration reform and consider it a high priority, even with all other major issues Congress has on its plate.
The respondents also rejected the argument advanced by opponents that the immigration reform would allow immigrants to take jobs away from Americans. Instead, 60 percent of White voters, 61 percent of African American voters, and 71 percent of Latino voters agreed that America is stronger when immigrants get legal, pay taxes, and become part of society.
This poll should provide support and encouragement to President Obama and members of Congress, from both parties, who are finally getting to the business of legislating, that commonsense immigration reform makes good sense, good policy and good politics.
Let's be clear. While we are encouraged by the poll and the growing congressional discussion, we will not stand down. We will continue to build support throughout the country, reaching out to all sectors of society, organizing public actions for reform and continuing our civic engagement efforts. Passing immigration reform will depend on an informed and engaged electorate and we intend to continue to monitor, encourage, and motivate the Congress to do the right thing.
We expect an honest debate based on our economic and community needs that fixes a long-ignored problem, and not a debate based on scapegoating or demagoguery that has occurred in recent years.
If members of Congress obstruct reform or fail to deliver, it will be their failure, not that of the American people, not Latinos and not immigrants. We will remember and will act accordingly in the 2014 election.
The time to act is now.