Leading Hispanic evangelical the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez has offered his support to an immigration bill put forth in Washington on Tuesday. Republican Sens. John Kyl (Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Texas) have filed legislation to address immigration reform and appeal to an ever-increasing Latino population that has steered clear of GOP candidates in recent elections.
Named the Achieve Act, the legislation appears to be a watered-down version of the Dream Act that would have helped young immigrants find a quicker path to U.S. citizenship. Many Republicans opposed earlier forms of the Dream Act because it gave too many illegal immigrants a direct path to citizenship without first taking steps to secure the borders.
The new version establishes three new visas for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. prior to the age of 14 and have been here for a minimum of five years. These individuals could apply for student visas if they are younger than 29 years of age and currently enrolled in a college degree program. And undocumented immigrants younger than 32 years of age who hold a degree from an American university or college can also qualify for a visa.
But the first major issue with the legislation is neither senators will be around next year to push passage of the bill because both chose not to seek re-election. Another obstacle that will eventually surface is the fact that Democrats may want to take credit for any immigration bill that reaches the president's desk so Republicans cannot use the issue to their advantage in the 2014 elections.
Rodriguez, who has been an outspoken proponent of comprehensive immigration reform for many years, sees the political reality of the situation and believes both Democrats and Republicans must come together if any such legislation is expected to pass in the near future.
"In order for immigration reform to be passed, both parties need to set aside corresponding political agendas for the purpose of doing the right thing and fulfilling the moral obligation of delivering millions of undocumented individuals from the shadows that they currently find themselves entangled in," Rodriguez told The Christian Post.
"It doesn't matter – it shouldn't matter – who gets the credit. In reality, it's going to have to look similar to the 1996 Welfare to Work bill where both President Clinton and a Republican House led by Speaker [Newt] Gingrich each took credit for getting millions of the public on payroll and back to work. But 2013 is the perfect time to pass a bill. We all know that by this time next year all the House members and a third of the Senate will go into re-elect mode and start towing their respective party's line."
Rodriguez, as well as other leading conservatives, say that if a reform bill isn't passed then Latino voters will hold it against the GOP for years to come.
Post-election analysis of the presidential race showed that Republican Mitt Romney received about 30 percent of the Hispanic support – far short of what he needed from the country's fastest growing minority population to win the White House.
Exit polling taken on Election Day also showed that Latino voters do not trust the Republican Party to put forth or pass immigration laws that would benefit the 12 million or so immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
In a Tuesday press conference, Hutchinson admitted that the strategy behind the legislation is to merely "get the ball rolling" and start the process of finding a solution for young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.
"We think the best thing that we can do to utilize their talents and the education they have received is to give them a legal status," said Hutchison during a news conference in the Capitol.
The bill is similar to another one brought forward by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) earlier this year that was trumped by an Obama administration order that deferred deportation action on some young illegal immigrants.
Rodriguez thinks that Rubio and Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be key players in any proposal that passes Congress. "I believe Rubio has evolved in his stance on the issue and has pivoted to a more compassionate approach to comprehensive reform," he said.
The California pastor also believes that conservative groups and elected leaders that have taken hard-line stances on the issue will need to rethink their opposition if they want to capture the White House or key Senate seats in the future.
"Any segment of the conservative cause that opposes immigration reform will do so at their own peril," exclaimed Rodriguez. "Comprehensive reform is the prescription to revive the conservative movement in America."