Ali Noorani: A Historic Moment For Immigration Reform

The United States Senate is on the verge of making history.

Bipartisan passage of commonsense immigration reform. Just 12 months ago, all of us would have thought it out of the question.

But two dramatic changes have taken place — changes that have created unparalleled bipartisan momentum for a new immigration process that honors our nation’s values and includes a clear roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans.

In essence, the Senate has voted to spend tens of billions of dollars on securing borders that already are as secure as they have ever been.

- Ali Noorani

One, Latinos came out to vote in record numbers in 2012. Candidate Mitt Romney’s idea that undocumented immigrants should and would “self-deport” if we made life miserable enough for them failed … miserably.

Self-deportation clearly is not an American value. The votes tell the story.

A record 11.2 million Latinos voted in the presidential election, 15 percent more than in 2008 — and they voted for President Obama, the candidate who spoke about reform rather than self-deportation, 71 percent to 27 percent.

The gap was even wider among Asian American voters: 77 percent to 21 percent, according to exit polls.

Something else happened that is in many ways more important: A strong conservative vision for immigration reform emerged.

In the past two years, an alliance of conservative faith, law enforcement and business leadership has come together to forge a new consensus on immigrants and America. These relationships formed because these leaders believe in immigration reform that respects human dignity, improves community safety and celebrates rather than limits American possibility.

Just two weeks ago, leaders from around the country in the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network held a Policy Breakfast and Advocacy Day in Washington. They organized 83 meetings with congressional offices (including 55 with Republicans). This same network has held more than 40 events around the country in support of immigration reform.

All of this has created not only political space for Republicans and Democrats to work together, but also a political imperative for compromise on commonsense policies.

And yet, as with all compromises, this one is not perfect. In fact, we have all experienced a bit of political whiplash in the past couple of weeks.

On June 18, the Congressional Budget Office report reported that the Senate bill — as negotiated by the Senate Judiciary Committee — would lead to $897 billion in savings over the next 20 years. Senators decided that meant they have money to spend, and they voted Wednesday morning to spend an additional $38 billion on border security.

That puts the bill’s total security price tag at a whopping $46 billion and change. In essence, the Senate has voted to spend tens of billions of dollars on securing borders that already are as secure as they have ever been.

Despite these problems, the Senate bill preserves the essential road to citizenship for aspiring Americans. It would be tough, but fair. The bill also would establish the functioning legal immigration process we so desperately need, one that meets the needs of our economy, workforce and families.

All in all, Senate bill 744 is a tremendous step forward and one that would protect millions upon millions of people, ending fear of deportation, uniting families and allowing all of us to contribute fully to our country. This is a great thing.

Of course, the Senate is only half the battle. The House of Representatives must follow suit with broad, bipartisan reform. The piece-by-piece approach the House has adopted so far doesn’t solve problems; it only creates them.

People who hold a Bible, wear a badge or own a business are ready to bring their conservative vision for broad, bipartisan immigration reform to Speaker John Boehner, his leadership team and rank and file Republicans.

Their message is clear: We need immigration reform that celebrates freedom and hard work — and that honors our history as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” (Prometheus Books, April 2017).