Wednesday, January 30, 2013


“Now’s the time,” President Obama declared as he unveiled his vision of immigration reform in Las Vegas the other day.

Just a day earlier, a bipartisan group of senators – the “Gang of Eight” – bared their blueprint for comprehensive immigration changes. It was, according to, the biggest bipartisan push since an earlier attempt died in the Senate in 2007.

Last year’s elections cast the die for Congress to finally tackle immigration reform. Latinos (75 percent) and Asians (77 percent) helped fuel Obama’s win over GOP rival Mitt Romney – and where they mattered, paved the way for Democratic victories in congressional races.

The Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund (AALDEF) exit poll showed 65 percent of Fil-Ams went for the President – bigger than the 50 percent who voted for him in 2008 – despite earlier projections Fil-Ams were leaning towards Romney.

And for these voters, comprehensive immigration reform was a major concern: about 34 percent of Asian Americans polled said they “strongly support” and 31 percent “support” comprehensive immigration, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (another survey suggested 51 percent of all Americans held a similar sentiment).

The Republican Party has often been vilified in the immigration debate. Their vehement opposition to any form of amnesty, including the DREAM Act and opening a path to citizenship, has eroded support among minorities. The recent election results appear to buttress this.

The GOP is trying hard to reconcile with the changing demographics. Many party stalwarts see immigration reform as a way of regaining relevance. Still, while the Senate looks ready to work on an immigration bill, the House, with its tea party constituency, could slog its way to the finish line or another debacle.

The “Gang of 8” proposal would overhaul the legal immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship that is being tied to more effective border enforcement. It would expand e-Verify and stiffen penalties for violating businesses.

“Of particular interest to the Filipino American community is ensuring that earned citizenship is available for DREAMers, decreasing the backlog in the family-sponsored immigration system, especially for Filipino World War II veterans, and promoting immigrant integration in the community,” said KAYA spokesperson Melissa Josue.

Like most minorities, Fil-Ams view immigration reforms from different prisms. There is the generational divide. The DREAM Act aims to legalize the stay of young undocumented immigrations brought here by parents who may be undocumented themselves.

Others, as Melissa mentioned, are more concerned how reforms can erase the huge backlog of petitions for love ones left behind in the Philippines – a waiting period of at least 24 years for married sons and daughters for instance.

About a third of Fil-Ams are opposed or have no position on immigration reform (compared to 43 percent of Chinese Americans), according to the 2012 AALDEF exit poll.

Speaking with some of these skeptics, I found a common anxiety, a fear that ill conduct might be rewarded.  “Why should those who ‘jump the line’ be rewarded at the expense of those who’ve followed the rules and are still waiting for the opportunity to come and live in America?” they asked.

Republicans want to establish a committee that will give the green light when the border with Mexico is “truly secure” and trigger mechanisms to open the pathway to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants. And there lays, as political pundit Roger Simon coined it, the “900-pound immigration gorilla”.

Democrats are wary. President Obama has said undocumented aliens can work their way to earn American citizenship by paying taxes, obeying laws, settling fines and perhaps most importantly, for them to go back at the end of the line. That has to be the key.

It’s become apparent, especially during his inaugural address, that the President views comprehensive immigration reform as part of a wider social justice agenda. It’s about sharing a slice of the American Dream, it’s about fairness, it’s about taking the best and brightest and putting them to work here, it’s about re-uniting families.

But if all that doesn’t work, we can always revert to the cold reality of the prevailing political calculus. As New York Sen. Chuck Schumer put it – “There’s more political risk in opposing immigration reform than supporting it.” So here’s to 2014.

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