President Barack Obama’s second-term push to overhaul the United States’ immigration system may be uniquely feasible in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, according to Stanford political observers.
“[Republicans] know they can’t let this issue be something that continues to keep the Latino electorate from possibly considering the GOP as their party of choice,” said Albert Camarillo, professor of history. “They’ve softened their view already. How far they will be hard-liners on certain things, I don’t know.”
Over 70 percent of the growing Latino electorate voted for Obama last year, in what has commonly been identified as a swing factor. In late January, Obama expressed support for a plan put forward by a bipartisan group of senators that would—among other aspects—allow skilled workers to remain in the United States after college instead of returning to their native countries.
With an enduring shortage of qualified workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, companies like Microsoft have been lobbying for more green cards for foreign hires who could fill these positions. Comprehensive immigration legislation could consequentially have a substantial impact on the third of Stanford graduate students who are international.
“For a lot of those people, coming and getting a Ph.D. or a master’s degree may mean more than taking those skills and degrees and going back to their home country,” said Tomás Jiménez, an assistant professor of sociology. “It may mean actually applying some of those skills here, which would be obviously beneficial for those individuals but also [would be] beneficial to the United States and essentially beneficial to Stanford.”
Some students are also hopeful that the proposed reform could increase opportunities for the Stanford immigrant community as a whole.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in order for students to be able to graduate college and, even after, to be able to work in the labor force,” said Erica Fernández ‘12 M.A. ‘13.
Fernández, whose family emigrated from Mexico to Oxnard, Calif., when she was 10 years old, argued that it was important to create opportunities so that talented students could remain in the United States.
“Already we have people who are international that study here, who do the jobs that other students cannot do because they don’t have the opportunities,” she said. “So they are bringing the talent here. But I think we also have to address the issue that there’s a lot of talent without opportunity, so we need to make those opportunities.”
Comprehensive immigration reform will also likely address other aspects of the current policy—like better enforcing current immigration laws and creating a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country—that are likely to be politically contentious.
For example, some Republicans have argued for the certification of a secure border as a prerequisite for immigration reform and argued against the granting of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. To date, neither side has shown much willingness to compromise on such issues. However, Jimenez remained optimistic about the prospect for legislative change.
“I’m more hopeful than I ever have been that the political climate is such that something can get done,” Jiménez said.