Are Dreamers Dreaming When It Comes To Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

The National Council of La Raza hosted its prestigious Capital Awards Gala last week and, not surprisingly, immigration reform was front and center.

As I listened to NCLR honorees give their own perspectives on immigration, I was particularly intrigued by a comment made by Cristina Jiménez, Managing Director for United We Dream, a youth-led immigration initiative. She stated that when she says “dreamers,” she doesn’t just mean people that were brought over here as babies and young children by their parents or caregivers through no fault of their own, but rather, all of her family that has crossed the border in search of a better future for themselves and their families. This includes all the “abuelos,” “tías,” “tíos,” “primos,” and “los papás.” Basically, everyone.

While Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL., is quickly becoming the new face for the party, he still needs the rest of the party’s support to tackle [the immigration] issue.

— Laura Berrocal

When we consider the current political state of play, it seems clear that immigration reform needs to happen this year or it will again be moved to the back burner. On November 4, 2014, 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested and elections to the House of Representatives will also be held. Policymakers rarely take on controversial legislation when they are up for reelection, so where does this leave the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country?

During a recent roundtable discussion with USA Today’s Susan Davis, hosted by the Women’s High Tech Coalition, the issue of immigration again dominated the conversation. The headliner (drumroll) – if the GOP wants to win in 2014, they need to address immigration reform. As the Latino population continues to grow, their impact on elections is becoming increasingly dominant. And if the United States’ growing Latino population continues to support Democrats, Republican wins are going to be hard to come by.

So the question remains, How can Republicans diversify their base and tap into a growing and very important voting bloc if the party is not making steps to address immigration reform?  Short answer – it can’t. Republicans need to figure this out and figure it out fast. The fact that CPAC talked about immigration and headlined as many Latinos as they could find seems to be a clear sign that the GOP realizes it’s running out of time. And while Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL., is quickly becoming the new face for the party, he still needs the rest of the party’s support to tackle this issue.

Adding fuel to the fire, Congress is the youngest and least experienced group of policymakers that we’ve seen in a long time. Forty percent of House members have served four years or less. And while we hear a lot about the old guard members of Congress, we aren’t really getting the full picture – that being, we’ve got a rookie Congress. More members than we’d like to think barely understand how a bill becomes law, which makes tackling an issue like immigration reform that much more daunting.

So the prospect of a comprehensive immigration reform bill being passed seems unlikely. Garnering support for pieces of legislation that address the biggest concerns related to immigration reform seems more palatable. Namely, moving on legislation that addresses a pathway to citizenship, border security and the current backlog that exists for immigrants trying to enter this country legally.

It’s about time this country realizes that immigration reform is not just about addressing the issue of people crossing the border illegally; it’s about the American dream and safeguarding what America is about. America is a country built by immigrants and our diversity is what makes this country so great. A responsible and effective immigration policy will ensure that America continues to grow and prosper in a way that continues to showcase to the world that we are a people of many cultures and from all walks of life. That’s what makes this country so amazing.

Immigration reform may not happen the way many would like to see, but dreamers should keep “dreaming” because this issue cannot continue to be ignored for much longer, particularly as the Latino population continues to grow and have greater influence on this important policy debate.