Is it déjà vu all over again?

By: Angelo Amador, Vice President, Labor & Workforce Policy, National Restaurant Association

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Having witnessed the “Grand Bargain” of 2006-2007, where a bipartisan group of Senators supported an immigration reform package clamored by the President, only to see it fail on the floor of the Senate, it is hard not to ask ourselves this tautological question. However, we need to understand what is different this time around that makes all of us, advocates in the pro-sensible immigration reform camp, hopeful that the story will have a different ending.

It is important to understand how we got to where we are today. In 2008, and continuing through October 2012, I kept reading about immigration reform being a dead issue in Congress “for the foreseeable future.” If the DREAM Act, a much narrower legislative attempt--with roots in broader Republican alternatives dating back to 2001--to legalize young undocumented students, but only if they attended college or served in the U.S. military, could not get enough votes in the Senate, all other attempts would be futile.

In 2007, business groups came together and commissioned a study to try and understand why our economic argument in favor of immigration reform was not taking hold in certain areas of the country. After all, as the main representative of the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, the National Restaurant Association’s, and other business groups’, support for federal immigration reform should have resonated more in places like Arizona, which in 2006 had a foreign born population of 15.1%, compared to Illinois 13.8%. At the time, unemployment in Arizona was below 4%, so logic would say that all willing and able workers coming to the state would be welcomed. However, the main difference was that while Illinois had the highest percentage of naturalized citizens in the U.S., Arizona had the highest overall percentage of non-citizens. We concluded that voting power of this key constituency, their relatives, neighbors, and friends, was the key to pushing pro-immigration measures in places like Illinois, while failing to stop anti-immigrant measures at the state level. Likewise, at the federal level, it was impossible for businesses to bring immigration across the finish line without a significant growth in the pro-immigration vote at the local level.

So, is it déjà vu all over again? The elections in 2012 provided the answer. In Arizona, the Latino vote went from being 12% of the electorate to being 18% of the electorate, and growing. We will take that to the bank.

Sign LULAC's "I Voted for Immigration Reform" Campaign to send a postcard to your Members of Congress saying that you expect immigration reform at LULAC.org/CIR2013.

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