Viva reform: Election loss spurs interest in immigration action

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Whatever the result of the postelection negotiations in Washington, D.C., to prevent the country going over the so-called fiscal cliff, one previously scorned issue at last may be closer to resolution -- immigration reform.

Defeat has its lessons, and one of them could hardly be missed. On Nov. 6, one in 10 voters was Latino and 71 percent of them supported President Barack Obama. Unless Republicans want to lose more general elections, it is clear that the party has to make peace with this growing constituency.

Former President George W. Bush and his political adviser, Karl Rove, knew this years ago, but Mr. Bush's sensible proposal was sunk by the "A" word -- amnesty -- although some pathway to legalization for long-established illegal immigrants always made sense. Talk-show demagogues and opportunistic politicians who supported legislation threatening to Latinos, such as in Arizona, were too busy indulging their prejudices to consider the long-term political consequences.

Although the Obama administration has deported more than 1.4 million illegal immigrants, at a higher monthly rate than Mr. Bush, most Latinos went to the polls having decided which party had their interests at heart. They had their reasons.

In June, the president reacted to the failure of the so-called Dream Act to pass Congress by using his executive power to stop deporting juveniles who came here before age 16. "They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," Mr. Obama said at the time. Republicans fumed.

The election results weren't long in before Republicans were singing a new tune. House Speaker John A. Boehner, a previous opponent of immigration reform, said "a comprehensive approach is long overdue" -- and he found support from former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. It wasn't just the politicians; Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said he had "evolved" on this issue, too.

Now Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, previous champions of immigration reform, are back with another proposal. While their bill would provide steps for citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants here, they would not be available until the borders were secure.

It sounds like a plan. Although it won't be easy for Republicans to put aside the widespread view of illegal immigrants as lawbreakers and see them instead as family-oriented, would-be entrepreneurs, there's no time like the present to act when the lessons of the election are so fresh.

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