This column is part of “The State of America,” an msnbc.com series leading up to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 20. This is the state of the issues you care about, as told by organizations promoting social change and other policy experts.
While the GOP’s latest rejection of immigration reform has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, the reality is that the United States is already undergoing a major societal shift as a result of significant Hispanic migration. And 2015 – regardless of Republican opposition – looks to be a tipping point. Consider:
- In 2014, the Hispanic unemployment rate dropped by a quarter in a single year, from 8.4% to 6.5%. One estimate suggests that fully one-third of all Hispanics without health insurance gained insurance in the first full year of President Obama’s health care reforms, dropping from 36% uninsured to just 23%. Over the past generation, theHispanic dropout rate has seen similar, dramatic improvements, going from about 35% in the 1990s to 13% last year.
- Millions of undocumented Hispanics living in the U.S. will see dramatic socioeconomic gains through the president’s commonsense reforms to the immigration system. Early data from the two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program show that even in its early days, DACA recipients saw significant gains in their income.
- As the Mexican-American population has soared, trade between the U.S. and Mexico has taken off. Mexico is now the America’s third largest trading partner – reaching record levels in 2014 – and its second largest export market. As the Mexican economy has improved and modernized in the post-NAFTA period, the flow of Mexicans into the U.S. has dropped to record lows. What appears to be the end of the Great Mexican Diaspora has helped contribute to a very dramatic slowdown in the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. during Obama’s presidency.
- A CBS News poll released last week showed that even after months of contentious debate and aggressive GOP counter-legislation, 69% of the country wants the 11 million undocumented immigrant population to remain in the US; 62% support the President’s actions and 55% want them to remain in place. It appears that the public is rejecting renewed, intense GOP efforts to force the millions undocumented immigrants living and working among us to leave.
Since the United States changed its immigration policy in 1965, the Hispanic population has grown from 3 million to 53 million. This growth has been part of a much broader and historic wave of immigration which has put America on a trajectory to become a “majority minority” nation by 2044.
The explosion of Hispanics in the U.S. is a very recent phenomenon, suggesting that we may be indeed at a tipping point in the United States where we see the community making historic gains in socioeconomic status and broad acceptance by the majority population. It may be too early to call the Hispanic migration a success, but it is sure looking like that is where we are headed, soon.
All these developments make Republican opposition to the underlying policies which have helped usher in this era of progress far more inexplicable. Perhaps the two most intense areas of GOP policy engagement in the past two years – rolling back the Affordable Care Act and attacking the president’s immigration reforms – are both efforts that would disproportionately harm Hispanic families.
Similarly, Republicans have proposed cuts in school funding and appear to be headed toward opposition to the president’s new community college initiative – also efforts which would disproportionately harm Hispanic families. In fact, the newly-passed House immigration legislation goes far beyond opposition to the Obama’s reforms and includes provisions to expedite the deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, putting the GOP not just against Hispanic advancement and assimilation but even their physical presence in the country.
Nevertheless, the great wave of Hispanic migration our nation has witnessed over the past fifty years is increasingly looking like a success. Hispanic Americans have made particularly significant economic strides in recent years. The public has rejected the worst of the GOP’s attacks on undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and appear accepting of the far more diverse America of the 21st century. The economic experiment of expanding our trade relations with Mexico has produced exploding levels of trade between our two countries, and an historic era of modernization and progress in Mexico itself.
While the politics of immigration will remain contentious in Washington for years to come, we may have hit a tipping point where this recent wave of Hispanic migration is becoming understood as a success for the immigrants themselves and the nation as a whole – a historic change that has made the State of our Union stronger.
Simon Rosenberg is the president of NDN/New Policy Institute, a pro-immigration reform think tank based in Washington, D.C.
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