President Obama has told Latino pressure groups that he will do everything he can to reform the US's immigration system in 2013. But first, he has asked for their help in helping to pull the US back from the brink of the 'fiscal cliff'.
held a conference call with the leaders of many Hispanic American pressure
groups on 11th December in which he assured them that he would put
the weight of the White House behind a campaign to reform immigration in 2013.
One person who was involved in the conference was Brent Wilkes, the executive
director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Mr Wilkes said 'as
soon as we get the fiscal cliff issues taken care of, he's committed to doing it
fiscal cliff is the popular term for two changes in American taxes and public
spending that will come into force on January 2nd 2013 unless the two
main parties in Washington can reach a compromise.
Unless the Democrats and
Republicans can reach an agreement on the national debt by 2nd
January, firstly the US will have to start to repay the national debt at the
rate of $109bn per year. Secondly, tax cuts introduced by President George W
Bush in 2001 which were limited until 2013 will expire, resulting in many Americans having to pay more
tax. The average effect, according to the Tax Policy Center could be every
household in the US paying $2,000 a year more in tax.
Some economists argue that
the combination of a reduction in government spending and higher taxes would
push the US back into recession. The president is currently negotiating with
Republicans in Washington and has asked Latino groups and others, to bring
'people power' to bear on his Republican rivals.
Latino groups are keeping the
pressure up in Washington. There will be a series of events in Washington around
the time of the president's inauguration in mid-January and Hispanic voters are
being urged to write to their representatives to urge them to act.
There is reason for optimism.
Some Republicans have said that they want reform. Republican Senator Lindsay
Graham of North Carolina has already introduced a bill with New York Democrat
Charles Schumer which would reform the system. A group of eight Democrats and
Republicans known as The Gang of Eight is meeting in Washington to discuss the
details of any comprehensive reform. Insiders say that the broad principles of
the reform have been agreed. Most proposed reform legislation in recent years
has involved proposals to strengthen border security, particularly along the
Mexican border, the introduction of a visa stream for low paid, low skill
immigrant workers and the establishment of a 'path to citizenship' for some of
those who are already in the US illegally. The principles are clear but no
doubt, negotiation over the details will be fierce.
Even Paul Ryan, the
vice-presidential nominee for the Republicans in the recent presidential
election, has said that he now wants reform. The Republicans campaigned on an
anti-immigration platform at the election. This explains, pollsters say, why Mr
Ryan and the Republicans' presidential candidate Mitt Romney polled less than
30% of votes among Latino voters.
Democrat representative Luis
Gutierrez claims that Mr Ryan has approached him and asked to cooperate on
immigration reform. 'Mr Gutierrez said that Mr Ryan told him 'I want to do it
because it's the right thing to do.' Recently, former president George W Bush
spoke out in praise of immigrants.
Many Republican Party
strategists say that, if the Republicans adopt an anti-immigration stance, they
will find it increasingly difficult to win elections as the demographic makeup
of the US changes. Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and African Americans
already make up 34% of the US population and they all vote overwhelmingly for
the Democrats. As the Republicans have become more anti-immigrant, so their
share of the Latino vote has gone down. George W Bush received over 40% of the
Latino vote in 2000 and 2004. Mitt Romney received about 29% in 2013.
However, in their Behind the
Curtain column on the Politico.com website, journalists Jim Vanderhei and Mike
Allen point out that, whatever the bigger picture may be, many Republican
congressmen and women will be loath to vote in favour of immigration reform.
Vanderhei and Allen say that Washington Republicans who vote in favour of
immigration reform, in particular, in favour of allowing illegal immigrants to
become citizens, will be punished by anti-immigration Republican voters in their
states. 'Many of the Republicans who would have to vote on such a [immigration
reform] package' would then have to 'run for re-election in elections dominated
by white conservatives…Regardless of exit polls, demographic trends and lectures
from party leaders, lawmakers know that many voters, especially primary voters,
and especially their primary voters, hate anything that smacks of amnesty', they
In the US system, any
new law must be passed by both chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of
Representatives, and signed by the president, in order to become law. Since the
election in November, President Obama's Democrats hold control of the Senate but
the Republicans control the House of Representatives. It remains to be seen
whether enough Republican Representatives will vote for change when the chips
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