Immigration Reform on the Horizon?

UC Riverside political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan examines U.S. immigration policy and the politics of partisanship and prejudice

Karthick Ramakrishnan

Karthick Ramakrishnan

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — As President Barack Obama makes his case for immigration reform this month and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators touts its own proposal, might 2013 be the year that Congress reforms U.S. immigration policy?

Perhaps so, says University of California, Riverside political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan, thanks to a political landscape altered by rapidly changing demographics, plummeting numbers of undocumented immigrants and tougher border enforcement.

But the route to reform will remain rocky, given the recent proliferation of state and local regulations related to immigration, and the continuing work of key policy actors on federal, state and local immigration lawmaking, Ramakrishnan explains.

The political science scholar notes that attempts to reform immigration policies failed in 2006 when the GOP was the majority party in the House, and in 2007 when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. This month, President Obama and the so-called “gang of eight” senators separately outlined principles for an immigration bill that would address issues related to border enforcement, visa backlogs, high-skilled immigration, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“The key differences now are that Latinos are seen as more crucial to the future of the Republican Party, the number of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. has plummeted, and border enforcement is significantly up,” explains Ramakrishnan, a leading scholar on U.S. immigration policy.

Asian-American voters are becoming a more influential constituency as well, playing a significant role in electing a record number of Asian Americans to Congress and in returning President Obama to office in 2012. Asia has been the largest regional source of immigrants to the U.S. since 2008.

Ramakrishnan and Taeku Lee of UC Berkeley reported in a study released this week  from the National Asian American Survey that 58 percent of Asian Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and that 54 percent of Asian Americans indicate that visa backlogs are a significant problem for their families, with more than a third saying the backlog is a “very serious” or “fairly serious” problem.

The dynamics of federal and state legislation on immigration since 2001 is also the topic of his recent law review article in Arizona State Law Journal (with Pratheepan Gulasekaram of Santa Clara Law School) and a book project tentatively titled “For Party and Nation: The New Politics of Immigration in the United States.”

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