Conversation on Comprehensive Immigration Reform Changes After Election

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) speaks during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In his first post-election news conference, President Obama sounded optimistic talking about comprehensive immigration reform — an issue he hadn't addressed during his first term.

"My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration," Obama said.

The reform could include a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, including the 600,000 estimated living in New York. The possibility of passing this type of a bill is being discussed for the first time in years by both Republicans and Democrats.

In this election, ten percent of all voters were Latinos. Over 70 percent of them voted for Obama, helping him win Colorado, Nevada and Florida. According to ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions poll, 58 percent of Latino voters said they were more enthusiastic about the president because of his decision on deferred action, a program that allows young illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work permits.  

Paul Taylor, the director of the Pew Hispanic Center, expects the influence of the Latino voting bloc will continue to grow.

"Latinos actually, to borrow a boxing metaphor, punch below their weight electorally," Taylor said.

He estimates the Latino electorate will double by 2030. That's driven by several factors, but the most important one is Latino youth.

"As today’s kids, 0 to 17-year-olds, 90 plus percent of whom are citizens,” Taylor explained. “As they age into the electorate, they will contribute to a growing voice that the Latino community is likely to have in our politics."

The fact that Latinos cast significantly fewer votes for Romney than they had for George Bush and John McCain has seemingly led to a significant change in the GOP’s position on immigration. From Senator McCain to the Tea Party favorite, Senator Rand Paul, Republicans have been coming out in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

"It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, just don't reload the gun," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CBS News. "So, I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to American problem."

New York Senator Chuck Schumer said he and Graham have resumed talks on immigration reform that broke off two years ago. They’re working towards a proposal that would include "an earned path to citizenship that allows those who came here illegally in the past to become citizens provided they have a job, they stay clear of the law, they learn English and they go to the back of the line."

Schumer says he would give illegal immigrants work permits immediately, but they would need to wait for their turn to get green cards.

"If somebody in Mexico City applied to the embassy before they crossed the border, they will not … get on the path to citizenship before that person did," Schumer said.

Lessons for reform can be drawn from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, or IRCA. It enabled 2.7 million people to get legal status criminalized the hiring of illegal immigrants for the first time.

But the legislation failed to stem illegal immigration.

"Before the ink on IRCA was dry, workers were coming in across the border to take jobs that employers needed in the country," said Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at NYU School of Law. "And since there were no increased legal channels for them to come, workers used unauthorized channels to come and that essentially is the essence of our current 11 to 12 million unauthorized in the country."

Chishti says the employer sanction mechanism of the 1986 law was laden with pitfalls. Prospective employees had to provide documents like green cards before getting hired, but employers could accept any document that appeared genuine.

"What we saw was a huge growth of the fraudulent document industry in our country, which is why so many unauthorized people today are employed in the formal sector of the economy using either someone else’s documents or fraudulent documents," Chishti said.

According to Schumer, the reform would address this issue. Changes would be made to the legal system to bring in immigrants who have the skills the country needs. Employers could more easily check who’s authorized to work in the country and would face harsher penalties if they hired illegal immigrants.

But experts say negotiating these components will be a difficult process. And any bill that might have bipartisan support in the Senate has to pass the House, where many members oppose comprehensive immigration reform.