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Time for Obama to deliver for Latinos

Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona

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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:29PM

Latino voters played a key role in electing President Barack Obama for a second term in office. As expected, nearly 70 percent of Latino voters voted for Obama in spite of his inability to deliver on his promise of comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office.

Reforming an obsolete immigration system should now be a top priority for his administration.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Obama when he was still a U.S. senator from Illinois. At that meeting, Obama defended his vote to build a wall along the southwest border with Mexico. His vote sent shock waves through the Latino community of Chicago.

During the interview, Obama stood behind his vote on the wall, but apologized for not consulting extensively first with the Latino community. And, in fact, he did later meet with a large group of Latino leaders to work out their differences.

Obama did not apologize or backtrack on his position. I disagreed that building a wall — no matter what size — would deter immigrants from coming to the United States illegally. But I respected Obama for standing his ground.

I agree that securing the southern border is critical when considering immigration reform. Obama and the previous administration have spent an estimated $90 billion over 10 years to beef up security at the U.S.-Mexican border.

The goal has been not only to prevent terrorists from coming in through the southern border, but also to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, mostly Mexicans. The flow, as it happens. has virtually stopped.

Last year, arrests at the southwest border were down to their lowest levels since 1972. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa violators from Mexico settled in the U.S. in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004.

Mexicans are choosing to stay home because of the bad U.S. economy, increased security at the border, the dangers posed by drug cartels, and improvements in the quality of life in their own country.

In fact, Mexican workers are increasingly coming here to work legally.

“There were more than 500,000 guest worker entries from Mexico in 2011, the largest number in history,” Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, told me.

In his second term, Obama and Congress should move to legalize the 11 million undocumented people who live among us. Our country should not have millions living in the shadows. It is a matter of national security, but also of economic opportunity.

The Center for American Progress concluded that immigration reform would lead to a $1.5 trillion growth in gross domestic product over the next 10 years. Legalized immigrants would buy homes and cars generating new revenues for the private sector and more taxes for governments.

Comprehensive immigration reform makes sense. Obama should work with Congress to approve a path to legalize those undocumented immigrants who work hard and have not committed serious crimes.

In his victory speech, President Obama mentioned again the need to fix the immigration system. It is time that he delivered on that old promise.

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