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2012: Recap of an Amazing Year in Immigration

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As 2012 comes to a close, we would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what a remarkable year it has been for immigration reform.  While 2012 started out with a vow to veto the DREAM Act and talk of self-deportation, it ended with a triumphant election season that underscored the power of the Latino vote and made it clear that politicians who ignore or malign the need for immigration reform do so at their peril.  And thanks to the successes of this year, 2013 is poised to become a huge milestone in the story of immigration reform, as the President and Congress prepare to push for historic legislation that Americans want, Democrats promised, and Republicans need.

Below is a recap of amazing victories that immigration advocates and their allies won this year:

In June, TIME Magazine profiled undocumented Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and a number of DREAM Act youth, cover-paging their story and amplifying their message to readers nationwide.  Two weeks ago, as the same magazine held a “People’s Choice Contest” to nominate TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year, “undocumented immigrants” placed third—just behind North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, but well ahead of editors’ choice winner President Obama (whom readers voted into 18th place).

Also in mid-June, President Obama—in a historic, game-changing move that we called the biggest news in immigration of the last 25 years—announced his deferred action for DREAMers (DACA) program, which protects young aspiring citizens from deportation and grants them access to work permits.  In mid-August, on the first day DREAMers could apply for the program, thousands of immigrant youth lined up in cities around America for help filling out and submitting their paperwork.  Four months in, more than 367,903 applications have been sent in requesting deferred action, and more than 102,965 have been approved.

At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled on US v. Arizona and largely struck down Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 anti-immigrant law.  The 5-3 decision took a “wait and see” approach to the law’s remaining “show me your papers” provision, allowing future rulings to decide whether such a policy could be implemented without the use of racial profiling. Later in the summer, lower courts followed suit and struck down most of Alabama’s HB 56 and Georgia’s HB 87, copycat-like laws that sprung up in SB 1070’s wake.  The lower courts similarly left Alabama and Georgia’s “show me your papers” provisions up to future debate.

In September, DREAMer Benita Veliz became the first undocumented person ever to address a national political convention, when she came to the Democratic National Convention to thank President Obama for deferred action and called on Congress to pass immigration reform.  Notable Hispanic speeches at both conventions included Mayor Julian Castro’s keynote address to the DNC, Governor Susana Martinez’s primetime speech at the RNC, and Senator Marco Rubio’s introduction of Mitt Romney at the RNC.

Finally, in November, the power of immigration advocates and Latino voters became a national headline when 12.2 million Hispanics turned out on Election Day to reelect President Obama over Mitt Romney by more than a 3-1 margin.  Latino voters helped Obama win key swing states like Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada by comfortable margins, and helped depose immigration reform opponents like Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) in downballot races.  (The Maryland DREAM Act also comfortably won its referendum, preserving Maryland DREAMers’ access to higher education in the state.)  Faced with future demographic irrelevance as a result of alienating the Latino vote, Republicans from John Boehner to Sean Hannity began to admit that the GOP had to reconsider its message and accept the need to move on immigration reform.

In the month and a half since, President Obama has said that a 2013 immigration bill would likely be introduced in Congress after next year’s inauguration, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has announced its principles for any immigration reform (specifically including citizenship), Latino engagement groups have made it very clear that they will be watching and grading politicians on what happens with immigration next year, and two retiring Republican Senators have even attempted to show solidarity by introducing a scaled-down version of the DREAM Act.

As 2013 approaches, we are excited about the prospects of immigration reform legislation that creates a roadmap to citizenship and finally ends the practice of families being separated when mothers and fathers are deported.  As the legislative battle heats up, we hope you’ll join us for the fight.

Happy new year!