The issue of immigration reform is not going away and, according to one Stockton professor, could alter the national electoral landscape for all future presidential elections.
A group of local experts participated in a panel on undocumented immigrants at Stockton State College on Thursday in a classroom in front of about 100 students.
In addition to the human and moral toll of the topic, Michael Rodriguez, associate professor of political science and director of Research and Policy Analysis at the college's William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, said the country's growing Hispanic population means the topic will be a major factor among the two political parties.
Of the roughly 52 million Hispanics living in the United States — about 16 percent of the nation's population — about half are too young to vote, he said. States such as Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, with a total of 49 of the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president, went for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 but swung for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 because of the Hispanic vote, he said. Other states, such as Arizona, Texas and Georgia, with a growing Hispanic population could swing Democrat in the near future as their numbers grow, he said.
Obama received 71 percent of the national Hispanic vote in 2012, and Rodriguez said Hispanics trend to Democrats because they are seen as more accommodating on the issue to the undocumented residents. Thus the Republican Party is now shifting from an "anti-immigration" stance to becoming more accommodating to the people in the country, he said.
"We have a bubble with huge demographic implications," he said. "The Republican Party needs to have immigration reform of some sort. If the Democrats don't get it they'll benefit."
At Tuesday's state of the union address, Obama discussed the need for several new measures on the topic including increased border security, changing the current methods for legal immigration status and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the country.
U.S. Congressman Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said Thursday he expects there to be several proposals that he will examine and discuss. Two keys for him is increasing security at the borders, which he said are "woefully ineffective" and creating a guest-worker plan.
"Our farmers are really behind the eight ball. They have been for years," LoBiondo said, adding all proposals must be comprehensive. "There is too much at stake to leave it vague."
The undocumented population is estimated at 11 million people, said Linwood based immigration attorney Jorge Coombs. That number is down nearly half from the previous decade as the country has done more to enforce and deport undocumented immigrants.
The system is very difficult for current undocumented people living in the country. To obtain legal status they must go back to their country and then return, so many of them stay in this country and let their visas expire. About 40 percent of illegal immigrants entered the country legally, he said.
Therefore there is a need to allow immirants — especilly those that were brought over at a young age — a chance to go to schools and work, he said.
Stockton senior Domenic Merendino, 21, said he was happy to hear more information on the complex topic, especially hearing about the human side from Coombs who has represented several immigrants who face deportation.
"Usually all you hear about is the law aspect," he said. "It's good to get a different perspective."
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