As an immigration attorney in Texas, I am constantly asked if the federal government will provide a means for undocumented immigrants to become a U.S. citizen. In the past, I have had to tell most people that the federal government is unlikely to produce a path to citizenship, but in recent weeks the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform have brightened considerably.
Following the presidential election in November, in which President Obama enjoyed the support of 70 percent of Latino voters, both major political parties have begun to re-evaluate their positions on immigration reform. The political landscape has changed dramatically in recent years as the Latino voting bloc has grown to almost 10.9 million registered voters. Despite the enthusiasm of the Democrats who appeared to enjoy the majority of the support from the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority, this is only a relatively small portion of the 50 million potential voters. Most importantly, however, the Latino vote will help determine the outcomes of elections in key swing states, especially in the Southwest.
As both sides of the political aisle jockey for the support of this increasingly powerful community of voters, a key issue has become central to winning the hearts and minds of many Hispanics: immigration reform. There have been bipartisan efforts like the Dream Act which would offer undocumented immigrants the possibility of obtaining citizenship if young immigrants completed college or a term of service in the military. Unfortunately this bill has stalled due to staunch opponents in the conservative elements of the U.S. Congress.
Republicans have countered with the Achieve Act in recent weeks. Sen. John McCain, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl introduced this bill following the election. Unlike the Dream Act, this bill would only allow undocumented immigrants to become legal residents.
Democrats who are eager to solidify the support among Latinos have renewed their efforts to push through new immigration reforms. President Obama announced this past week that he would present a bill to Congress that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, strengthened border security, greater availability of work visas and higher penalties for employees who hire illegal workers. After the resolution of the fiscal budget crisis, the White House intends to begin a media campaign to drum up support among the electorate and members of both Congressional houses.
Although there is no certainty of victory for the President’s efforts, he does appear willing to put his political power behind the bill. Some officials state that the bill will only have a narrow window of passage before legislators begin to waver on such a controversial piece of legislation. Even now, some Republican leaders have suggested a more measured approach with an immigration overhaul implemented in smaller, more digestible bills that introduce phased in changes. Even Sen. Marco Rubio, a major GOP leader on immigration reform has voiced his desire for incremental changes.
Paths to citizenship have occurred in the past. President Reagan provided the first great amnesty in 1986 which allowed millions to obtain citizenship. This may happen again, and immigration lawyer like myself will be closely watching all of the major political factions as they maneuver to facilitate or hinder passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
The Lyttle Law Firm will be available to answer questions, offer advice and provide legal assistance. If you would like to set up a private consultation please contact my office at (512) 215-5225.