Making strides: National immigration reform on the horizon |

Making strides: National immigration reform on the horizon

Luke Graham

Immigration always has been a controversial issue in the United States, dealing with prickly topics like class, wealth and race.

Immigration laws haven't been revamped since 1996, when it became tougher to get a visa and bars to re-entry were created. The nation's quotas for visas haven't changed since 1965, meaning there are about 27,000 family-based visas per country, per year.

In 1996 there were an estimated 5.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. By 2000, that number had ballooned to 8.4 million. It reached an all-time high of 12 million in 2007.

But immigration reform appears on the horizon.

In a speech at the end of January in Las Vegas, President Barack Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform.

"The time is now," he said.

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After the speech, Obama tasked eight senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — to overhaul immigration laws.

The initial bill looks to include a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. It also revamps the legal immigration system and makes businesses verify their workers are legal residents.

Some key issues remain, however. The Gang of Eight wants the citizenship pathway but first wants to secure the border. Solving the guest worker problem remains a hurdle, as well.

A bill was said to be close, but talks broke down a week ago when labor and business leaders could not agree on the visa process for unskilled workers.

According to The Associated Press, however, a deal was reached late Friday night, and the group of senators is expected to sign off on it.

The Republican stance on immigration reform began to shift on the heels of the 2012 election, when Obama won re-election largely on the Latino vote.

"Look at the last election," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Jan. 27 during an appearance on ABC's "This Week." "We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons, and we've got to understand that."

A record number of Latinos cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election. Obama won an estimated 71 percent of those votes, with the announcement of the deferred action policy playing a key role in swing states such as Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida.

In Colorado, Obama won 75 percent of the Latino vote to Romney's 23 percent. Romney, however, won 54 percent of the white vote to Obama's 44 percent.

"This is the year to do" immigration reform, said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "We are getting tantalizing pieces of gossip that suggest in both chambers they are quite close to real bills. That's huge. I think the Senate is poised to do this. We're expecting to see a bill in April."

The Gang of Eight is attempting a bipartisan approach at immigration reform. The group hopes to have a bill when leaders return April 8 from Easter break. Obama said last week that he hopes Congress will pass historic immigration legislation by the end of the summer.

Illegal immigrant population estimates for the US

1990: 3.5 million

1991: 4 million

1992: 4.2 million

1993: 4.4 million

1994: 4.7 million

1995: 5.1 million

1996: 5.5 million

1997: 5,8 million

1998: 6 million

1999: 6.4 million

2000: 8.4 million

2001: 9.3 million

2002: 9.4 million

2003: 9.7 million

2004: 10.4 million

2005: 11.1 million

2006: 11.3 million

2007: 12 million

2008: 11.6 million (First decline after two decades of growth.)

2009: 11.1 million

2010: 11.2 million

2011: 11.1 million

■ It is estimated that Mexicans make up 58 percent of the total.

■ Other Latin American countries make up 23 percent.

■ Asia makes up 11 percent.

■ Europe and Canada make up 4 percent.

■ African countries and other nations make up 3 percent.

Figures don’t add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

Source: Pew Research Hispanic Center