In a true display of people power, President Barack Obama’s heavy support from Latino and immigrant voters on November 6 is already prompting bipartisan action on immigration reform.
On Sunday, both parties called for immigration reform. In the U.S. Senate, where Republicans filibustered the federal DREAM Act into defeat, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced that they are working on an immigration reform bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The same day House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged Obama to take the lead on immigration reform. Just before the election, President Obama said he was confident immigration reform would pass Congress in 2013, predicting that Republicans will switch previous votes against immigration reform after seeing the consequences of alienating the voter demographic.
Indeed, Latinos voted in record numbers and Obama’s margin with these voters was the widest ever recorded. Voter registration drives targeting immmigrants by groups such as the Chicago-based Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) helped this happen. ICIRR’s efforts added over 26,000 new voters, 58 percent in Chicago and 42 percent in the suburbs. Now the group is asking President Obama to immediately begin work on comprehensive immigration reform so the momentum sparked by the election results does not dissipate.
“Given how important the Latino vote was for him, we expect immigration reform to be an issue Obama addresses in his second term,” said Lawrence Benito, ICIRR CEO, in an interview with Progress Illinois. “Given the changing demographics, immigration is something that both parties need to look at seriously. The Republican Party can’t continue to alienate the fastest growing segment of the voting population.”
The culmination of the group’s voter drive was an election night march that traveled from Chinatown to McCormick Place, where it then held a candlelit vigil outside President Barack Obama’s election victory celebration.
Despite the steady cold drizzle throughout the evening, over a hundred people marched with placards instead of umbrellas, chanting slogans such as “Si, se puede” and “Tell me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like.”
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who trounced his Republican opponent Hector Concepcion to reclaim Illinois’ 4th congressional district seat, spoke to the vigil in English and Spanish promising to fight for immigration reform.
“We will not stop fighting until we pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said Gutierrez to the cheering crowd. “Gracias everyone, and keep fighting.”
After Gutierrez, members of the crowd took turns speaking to the group, telling often emotional stories of how immigration laws were affecting their families. While ICIRR does not officially endorse political candidates, vigil participants were primarily Obama supporters.
“I really hope the priority list that Obama issued actually goes into law because I feel that my father would be able to stay,” said Razan Abu-hasish, whose family hails from Jordan.
Obama’s support of the federal DREAM Act was cited as a reason to support his re-election.
“I don’t want to see other Latinos not go to school because they are in a country that does not honor their education. We are part of the U.S. too, we work hard, we are educated people,” said Carolina Parra.
Looking ahead, ICIRR plans to continue to work with its national partners to lobby President Obama, Congress and the GOP for immigration reform. Locally ICIRR, itself a statewide coalition of 130 immigrant groups, is pressing to see its driver’s license legislation advance in the Illinois General Assembly.
“We’re launching a campaign at the state level to allow all Illinois drivers to obtain a drivers license. There are currently 250,000 people driving on the roads without a drivers license,” Benito said.