This post originally appeared at Huffington Post Politics Thursday, November 29, 2011.
Something is rotten in the halls of Congress. After a post-election epiphany where the Republican Party became aware of its own relationship faults with Latino and immigrant communities, House and Senate Republicans rushed to show their first efforts to fulfill the immigration void. But their remedies are crumbs versus the full loaf of economic and social benefits that would come from common sense immigration reform.
This week, the House will likely vote on the STEM Job Acts, a partisan special interest bill authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who in a recent editorial called an ABC News/Washington Post poll -- which found that 57 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- biased and "skews results to support the media's predetermined notions." Just as Smith clearly refuses to accept the public's unequivocal backing for such a reform, so too do the Republicans refuse to see what's right in front of their faces.
Or perhaps they are suffering from a Hamlet complex: Are they mad or are they actually scheming? Conservative support of the STEM bill is no substitute for a real, comprehensive immigration reform. This proposal takes away the potential opportunities and contributions of others, most notably those of African immigrants, that require legal visas and provides no further relief to the backlog of visa petitions.
It also comes with a big trick: permanent residents' families would be able to wait for their visas in the U.S. but the family members would not be allowed to work. Asking immigrants to wait years without working to help support their families is an unrealistic, gotcha measure which would obviously lead to even more deportations and broken families. The STEM bill, unfortunately, is simply a political ploy by the GOP to garner the attention of Latino voters and hope that they think, "Hey, Republicans are trying to be an inclusive party."
But if Latinos are still not convinced, two departing GOP senators from border states -- Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona -- have offered the ACHIEVE Act, a challenge to the DREAM Act. This bill appears to offer young immigrants opportunities to gain legal status like the DREAM Act, but delays for years any chance at citizenship. Here again lies an age-old problem of the GOP -- their hubris under the guise of friendliness and empathy that produces a plan that is never really intended to work.
Perhaps the GOP should go back to the drawing board and index card the election exit poll results to not forget what actually happened just a few weeks ago. Over 12.5 million Latino voters went to the polls this year to emphasize their growing numbers and influence in America. The message couldn't have been clearer: We exist, we're listening, we're voting and if you don't pay attention, we will hold you accountable.
President Obama and Democrats acknowledged the Latino community's voices and power during the recent campaign season, while conservatives chose to dismiss an obvious presence and their demands. It proved to be a costly mistake that can be easily avoided in the future if they get serious about developing policies that take into account the demographic shift.
Latinos aren't fooled by such measures that reward one set of immigrants over others and, most importantly, don't provide a path to citizenship for individuals who are every bit American. The immense Latino vote this year wasn't about voting for Band-Aid solutions to a very complex wound in our immigration system. Our vote was for the promise of a comprehensive immigration reform that would address all the issues currently affecting immigrant families, DREAMers, workers and their employers.
It's time to leave all the political pandering behind and come together in an effort to write legislation that's not only comprehensive and fair in its nature, but also allows undocumented immigrants who have planted their roots in our country an immediate opportunity to earn citizenship and one day, finally, cast a ballot that resoundingly echoes their voice.
The future is here. Republicans would do well to understand the benefits, political, economic and social, of an immigration reform that's inclusive and makes true, civic participants out of immigrants. Or if not, they might as well embrace their own tragic end.
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