Alexander Pope said it best: "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." These words never feel truer than at the start of a new year, even in the world of politics. Regrettably, certain issues – immigration reform, for one – prove each year to be a political quagmire of stagnation and disappointment. However, events of late, namely the re-election of President Obama in November and the Republican Party's subsequent existential crisis, have sparked new energy toward remedying America's indisputably broken immigration system. So, what can we expect on the immigration front in 2013?
1) Not-so-subtle overtures by the Republican Party: The inevitable shift in the Republican message on immigration is, perhaps, obvious, but crucial. Former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's dismal performance among Latinos and Asian Americans – earning only 29% and 27% of their vote respectively – served as a wake-up call to the party's leadership. In a post-election research memo, conservative pollster Whit Ayres and Executive Director of the right-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network Jennifer Korn explained the harsh reality of future Republican prospects on a national stage:
Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters … trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing political proposition.
The lesson of Governor Romney's failed presidential campaign is that talk of self-deportation and Arizona-like immigration laws is a recipe for disaster. In 2013, Americans will likely watch the Republican Party struggle with and then buckle under what the country's new demographics require: a courtship of the immigrant vote.
2) A revitalized "Gang of Eight":
Sometimes in life, timing is everything. Washington's Gang of Eight – a team of senators from across the aisle long determined to resolve the country's immigration problems – has reconvened. In the wake of the 2012 election results and President Obama's open admission that immigration will be a top priority in his second term, the Gang of Eight recognizes the relative strength of their position and the unique opportunity to pass legislation on this issue.
"Graham and I are talking to our colleagues about this right now," said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer , "and I think we have a darn good chance of using this blueprint [a four-point comprehensive reform proposal tabled in 2010] to get something done this year," he added.
The comprehensive reform proposed by the Gang of Eight has traditionally involved strengthening security at the border, establishing a new visa scheme to allow low skilled immigrant workers to migrant legally to the U.S., and creating an avenue for undocumented workers already in the U.S. to obtain citizenship. Washington insiders claim that these broad principles have already been agreed upon, but that the details have yet to be ironed out.
3) The predictable rise of Marco Rubio: Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who likely will serve as the Republican Party's Latino poster-boy and answer to their immigration problem, has floated an alternative to the Gang of Eight agenda. Rubio, along with Representative and Mitt Romney's former running mate Paul Ryan, has begun to build a series of smaller immigration bills. In this way, immigration reform may be more palatable to conservative Republicans in Congress who likely will resist the vast changes endorsed by the Gang of Eight and the White House.
4) Pathway to citizenship: 2013 will be a year that sees some movement toward creating paths to citizenship, or at least to legality. Some version of the Dream Act likely will pass this year, as both Democrats and Republicans have offered proposals promoting access to college education for undocumented immigrants. The sticking points under scrutiny are in the restrictions to Dream Act funding and whether or not the legislation should provide a path to citizenship.
Blanket amnesty, generally unpopular among Americans, is an unrealistic option for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. However, 62% of Americans do support the creation of a mechanism to allow immigrants to earn citizenship over a period of time. Furthermore, grassroots Latino advocacy movements recognize their strength in numbers and are ready to wield their power to get results.
"This comprehensive immigration reform for the Latino community is personal," explains Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino. The fact that we've come out in record numbers in 2012 was personal. And that's a calculation that members of Congress don't understand. If they are not with us, 2014 may not look pretty with them."
Momentum on immigration reform in 2013 boils down to one simple fact: The tide, finally, is turning.