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Our Views: Election a wake-up call on immigration
Desire to lure Latino voters finally may move Congress toward a long-term fix
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

No matter how you feel about the result of the Nov. 6 election, one promising result may be that the federal government finally is moving toward a practical policy on illegal immigration. After years of debate over how best to deal with the nearly 12 million undocumented foreign workers in the United States, a push toward a solution may be sparked by politics.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney earned only 27 percent of Latino votes, down from 31 percent won by John McCain in 2008 and 40 percent by George W. Bush in 2004. That gap was particularly crucial in states with high Latino populations that have shifted from red to blue in recent years: Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and New Mexico, all won by President Barack Obama.

Somewhere along the way, Republicans lost Latino votes, which isn’t much of a surprise. Harsh rhetoric, state laws targeting immigrants and a lack of outreach painted the GOP into a corner as the party of older white people in a nation growing more diverse each year.

But after the Nov. 6 vote, some have awaken to this demographic suicide. Several key Republican leaders and conservative pundits have concluded that to improve their standing among Latinos, they must embrace immigration reform that enforces border security while creating a path toward permanent residence, not just “round ’em up and send ’em back.”

Actually, some Republicans have been saying this all along. Bush pushed for a guest worker program during his term, but it was shot down by hard-liners in Congress. In a speech last week, he reiterated how legal immigrants “invigorate our soul” as well as boost the economy, a position others would be wise to embrace.

There always has been a split among Republicans on this issue. Those on the business side have long favored legal status for immigrants who fill jobs in industries such as agriculture, hospitality and construction. Georgia’s tough immigration law passed in 2011, for instance, drove away may migrant workers and led to a shortage of field workers to pick crops, proving the need for such labor.

Just weeks after the election, GOP senators proposed a revival of the DREAM Act that would offer a path to legalization for immigrants brought here as youngsters now pursuing higher education or military service. A previous bill was shot down by members of both parties, one that included a path toward full citizenship, which the new one does not. Ironically, the bill offers what Obama has decreed through his own directive to no longer deport such undocumented immigrants.

There also seems to be growing consensus on the need to create legal avenues for immigrants with high-tech skills to help boost U.S. brainpower in those industries. The House has voted to make green cards available to foreign students with advanced science and math degrees.

These bills are small steps in the right direction. There still will be much give-and-take ahead to find a compromise, but that’s how it works. Wherever the debate leads, the goal should be to create a legal path for migrant workers that is doable and efficient, minus the red tape that led many to choose the easier illegal route to the U.S. Having them sneak across the border and live in the shadows is not the best alternative for anyone, and it’s time to put a stop to it.

The timing is right as well, seeing how migration from Latin America has slowed from its peak in the last decade. The slumping economy, coupled with stronger enforcement of local and state laws against immigrants, has sent many back to their home countries.

The takeaway from this is that those who remain in the U.S. likely are more established with jobs and homes, and truly want to be part of our society. If these people choose to be Americans and work to make our country better, why would we not want them here?

The roadblock to such a change has been fear. Many decry the effects of Latinos on our culture, despite the economic benefits of their labor. That same xenophobia was expressed during other immigration waves from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe in previous centuries.

And it’s nonsense. American culture is not based on Anglo-Saxon ideals alone, and never has been. We love pizza, egg rolls and burritos, and the nation is better for it. It’s time everyone made peace with that.

Immigrants to the U.S. want what we all want: A good job, a home and a stable life. They are hardworking people of faith and family who offer much to enrich our national identity. They don’t want handouts or a free ride, just a chance to work hard and succeed. Those who moved here for jobs may still be learning English, but many of their children already have, and that second generation will assimilate further into the fabric of our country.

These young people will become voters in years to come. That’s why both parties are noticing and may finally move away from their entrenched positions toward a solution, provided that desire doesn’t fade when crowded out by other issues.

It’s long past time to stop approaching immigration piecemeal with draconian state laws spurred by federal inaction.

Now that the political will is there, however short-lived it may be, it’s time to fix the problem and put it behind us.

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