Democrats have been calling for immigration reform in the U.S. for years. Until recently, Republicans opposed immigration reform. Mitt Romney ran for president in November calling for the 11 million Hispanic immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to "self deport." Since the election, which saw 71% of Hispanics vote for President Obama, a number of Republican politicians have begun calling for immigration reform.
I suspect the Republicans are seeing the writing on the wall that without at least 30% to 40% of Hispanics voting for their candidates, the likelihood of a Republican winning the White House in future presidential elections will be greatly diminished.
The number of Hispanics living in this country legally is steadily growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 310 million people living in the United States in 2011, 52 million were estimated to be Hispanic, or about one in six. By 2050, the number of Hispanics living in the U.S. is expected to skyrocket to 132.8 million, or about 30% of the nation's population.
Some people may wonder how so many Hispanics are living here legally? Many Hispanic families, particularly those living in Border States like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida, have lived here for several generations and are legal U.S. citizens. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hispanics began streaming across the border into this country in mass in search of jobs and a better life. Even if a Hispanic couple crossed the border illegally, any of their children born in this country are legally U.S. citizens. Thousands of babies who were born here 18 to 30 years ago are now adults and are having children of their own.
What I find most interesting about the debate about immigration reform is who in Wisconsin supports it. In addition to most Democratic politicians, many owners of large dairies who employ Hispanics are hoping immigration reform passes this year. A large percentage of the Hispanics employed on Wisconsin dairy farms are living and working here illegally. The vast majority of owners of large dairy farms in Wisconsin are Republican. The owners of large dairies want immigration reform so they no longer have to live in fear that Immigration Customs Enforcement officers will raid their farms leaving them with a greatly reduced workforce to help milk and care for their herds ranging from 400 to 8,000 cows each.
I believe immigration reform in this country is long overdue. It is absolutely ridiculous that our country did not resolve this issue 15, 20 years ago. It doesn't just affect the immigrants who are living here illegally, it also affects their families and those who employ them including many owners of large dairy farms in Wisconsin.
Now that Republican politicians are starting to say they support immigration reform, maybe Congress will be able to pass immigration reform and find a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the 11 million Hispanic immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Obama's immigration proposal would create a visa for those living in the country illegally and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years. They would face a criminal background check and have to pay back taxes, learn English and get a "lawful prospective immigrant" visa. The proposal also requires businesses to know the immigration status of their workers and adds more funding for border security.
Republican Congressmen haven't really said what their plan is yet. They are divided on details of the immigration process to citizenship, aware that conservative members of the Republican Party are adamant on a secured border before any other details move forward.
It will be interesting during the months ahead to see how immigration reform plays out. Let's just hope Democrats and enough Republicans can come together to pass meaningful immigration reform – the sooner the better.