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Conventional Wisdom Watch: Why Immigration Reform May Be Next Up in Congress

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New Momentum Behind Congressional Action on Reform Flies in Face of Pundit Expectations

Inside-the-beltway skepticism about the prospects of immigration reform often hinge on three misplaced beliefs – that immigration reform is unpopular with the public; that reform is bad policy in a down economy; and that tackling reform is a political non-starter given our current dynamics and the upcoming midterm elections.  However, conventional wisdom is wrong on each of the three counts. 

As we reported last week, new polling shows that the public, including Republicans and Independents, broadly support comprehensive immigration reform.  Additionally, a series of new reports and studies substantiate the fact that fixing the nation’s broken immigration system would have far-reaching economic benefits that would help all American workers while promoting strong economic growth.  And today, a Politico story blows up the belief that immigration reform is impossible to tackle due to the political dynamics at play and highlights that, aided by the prodding of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), immigration reform has a very real shot of being the next big issue taken up by Congress. 

As the story notes, “It has long been assumed that the climate bill would emerge as the final big issue of the year in the Senate, since immigration has been so divisive.   But immigration got a boost in recent weeks, when top White House officials scheduled a conference call to reassure Latino activists that they would move on a reform bill this year.  Advocates argue that taking up immigration could help boost turnout among Latino voters in the midterm elections and drive a wedge between the GOP and Latino voters.”  The story also notes that Schumer is “invested in guiding an immigration bill to the floor, after assuming the chairmanship of the Senate immigration subcommittee from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) last year. His work on the issue dates back to 1986, when he brokered a key compromise that helped pass the first major immigration overhaul in decades.”

A senior unnamed Republican aide also captured another overlooked aspect of immigration politics – the GOP is cleaved down the middle on this issue.  As the aide said, “The whole reason some people on the Democratic side view immigration as a great issue is because there is a side of the Republican Party that frankly cannot help itself on the issue.  They go ballistic, and it comes across as anti-Hispanic — that’s not what they intend, but that’s the way it is perceived.”

Ironically, Republicans in Congress could also use the upcoming immigration debate to rehabilitate their image with Latinos, if they choose to go the responsible route and work with Democrats on a bipartisan solution.

“Beltway conventional wisdom about immigration reform is both pervasive and wrong,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “We are used to this wisdom-reality gap.  Remember when the conventional wisdom was that immigration would the next great wedge issue for the GOP?  Or that Latino voters don’t care about this issue and don’t turn out in significant enough numbers to turn elections?  Our elected officials should stop listening to the chattering classes and start listening to the American people – tackling immigration reform is good policy and good politics and it’s time we acted.”

 America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.