Immigration: The 'Civil Rights Issue of Our Time'

Immigration is “the civil rights issue of our time” according to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who spoke to a packed room at the Center for American Progress last week.

Menendez, one of the lead co-sponsors of the DREAM Act, is not alone in his vision for comprehensive immigration reform. Now politicians on both sides of the aisle (including Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid) are evolving their stances to address the long-standing need for change on this issue.

In his speech, Menendez credited the changing electorate for bringing immigration to the forefront once more: Latinos made up 11 percent of the 2012 electorate, and 60 percent of this demographic personally knows an undocumented individual.

Menendez briefly outlined his proposal for immigration reform, which he bases on the idea of “playing by the rules to live the dream.” His priorities for a fair set of policies include: family reunification, a pathway to legislation for current undocumented immigrants, business reforms, exemption from quotas for those in the STEM fields, birthright citizenship, and reasonable enforcement.

Immigration policy was not historically a partisan issue until 9/11, when progress on immigration halted due to the tightening of homeland security. But the 2012 election, in Senator Menendez’s words, caused “the GOP to look into the face of new America and not recognize it.” The anti-immigrant stance of candidate Romney and many other GOP contenders turned away Latino voters who might otherwise have voted Republican.

This reckoning, along with enticing economic benefits (a $329 billion gain from the federal passage of the DREAM Act alone, plus expedited recession recovery), will set the stage for coalition building and progress in Congress, in which Menendez plans to play a major role. He concluded by stating that the only way for either party to be truly nationally representative is to embrace immigration reform.

For more information on the urgent need to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants and adopt a just immigration policy, check out CAP’s issue brief here.

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