Immigrants are a blessing for U.S.

Published 11:00 pm Friday, February 1, 2013

We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken, and reform has been near the top of the national agenda since at least 2007. But Congress addressed neither conservative anxieties — unsecured borders, people staying with expired visas — nor liberal concerns, such as treatment of immigrants (legal or not), paths to citizenship, etc. Now, however, we may be reaching consensus.

Six years ago, most Americans thought the 12 million undocumented immigrants were a major problem. Congress debated, but nothing was done. And over the years the public’s attitude toward undocumented immigrants has changed.

They’re no longer seen as a problem, but as a blessing. For one thing, fears of terrorism generated by 9/11 and its political aftermath have faded.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The presidential debates, both primary and general, revealed that a consensus might be growing. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed “a humane” immigration policy and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said “you don’t have a heart” if you don’t help immigrants who’ve grown up in America. Romney said he wouldn’t deport any undocumented immigrant (though he would encourage them to “self-deport”). Republican leaders were no longer afraid to absorb undocumented immigrants.

Few people realize that the Obama administration increased surveillance of our borders and deported over 1 million undocumented immigrants, focusing on those with criminal records. According to several non-partisan professional studies, increased border security and changing economic conditions in Mexico have helped to drastically reduce the number of illegal Mexican border crossings.

Washington Post blogger Suzy Khimm looked at the 2007 immigration bill, which didn’t pass the Senate, comparing its objectives on border security with 2013 conditions. The Obama administration’s actions have outperformed the 2007 objectives in all categories. But achieving goals has a cost: Congress spent $11.7 billion in 2011, or 64 percent more than it provided in 2006.

Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, told The Guardian, “We’ve sketched a dramatic transformation of the immigration enforcement system (that is) unparalleled in this country’s history.”

Immigrants can have a positive impact on the economy: Studies show that providing earned citizenship to undocumented immigrants could add as much as $1.5 trillion dollars over 10 years. Even the most conservative estimates place the amount in the billions.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent lobbyists to Washington recently to push immigration reform as a way to fix the economy. Statistics indicate that immigrants began 50 percent of all start-up companies in Silicon Valley, and immigrants also started 25 percent of all new tech and engineering businesses between 1995-2005. In short, immigrants have been technology leaders, creating jobs for Americans.

Bloomberg is co-chair of Partnership for a New American Economy. Its website emphasizes that to reinvigorate our businesses, we must attract the best and brightest from other countries — that is, immigrants.

Within weeks of the election, two prominent Republicans who had worked for Romney began a super PAC called “Republicans for Immigration Reform.”

“I think we lost the election because the far right of this party has taken the party to a place that it doesn’t belong,” said Carlos Gutierrez, former commerce secretary under George W. Bush and co-founder of the PAC.

There’s the pragmatic part of immigration reform: Republicans ignored the warnings of moderates in their party and lost the Hispanic vote to Obama by 70 percent.

Indeed, the public mood has changed. Immigrants aren’t a wedge issue any more. Americans see the promise, hope and decency that immigration reform holds, not just for those who risk their lives to come to America, but for Americans looking for a revitalized economy.

The bipartisan spirit to achieve immigration reform has even become competitive. The Gang of Eight, a group of four Republicans and four Democrats, rushed to hold a press conference before President Obama held his own on immigration reform. They wanted to announce their plan first.

When President Obama announced his plan for immigration reform this week, he said, “I came here today … because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling; where a broad consensus is emerging; and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.”

Obama agreed with the senators on the need to continue enforcement at the borders, adding: “I believe we need to stay focused on enforcement. That means continuing to strengthen security at our borders.” Obama said their principles “were very much in line” with his own principles and what he campaigned on.

“It looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging,” Obama said. “But this time, action must follow.”

We’re arriving at a consensus on immigration reform. Let’s get it done and move forward — together.

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)