Immigration reform has only reached the halfway point in its journey to become law. But it took a hell of a lot for it to get here. The Senate passed a landmark immigration bill Thursday that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. The proposal still faces an uphill climb in the House of Representatives, but make no mistake, this is a historic day for the issue of immigration reform. The Senate approved its landmark measure 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining all the Democrats in favor of the bill. Just one year ago, a strong bipartisan vote to pass immigration reform in Congress seemed impossible.
Here are four major events that happened since then to make today possible.
1. President Obama's Re-election A record 11.2 million Latino voters showed up at the polls in 2012, and they overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of President Obama. Obama won over 70 percent of Latinos, according to exit polls, one of the highest percentages for any candidate in U.S. history. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, fared poorly among Latino voters in large part because he proposed fixing the nation's immigration system by encouraging undocumented immigrants to "self-deport" - a suggestion that struck many listeners as tone-deaf and insensitive. Romney also performed very poorly among America's fastest-growing immigrant group: Asians. Many top Republicans have realized the party's base of support has become far too white, and some posit that supporting immigration reform could be the first step in bridge-building with non-white voters. The political imperative to take up an immigration bill in Congress formed quickly after the election.
2. The "Border Surge" Despite the results of the election, finding Republican votes for immigration reform in the Senate wasn't easy. The proposal that helped unlock enough Republican votes was the so-called "border surge," which would double the size of the Border Patrol and finish 700 miles of fencing between the U.S. and Mexico. That allayed some conservatives' fears about appearing soft on illegal immigration. Militarizing the southern border could have a harmful impact on both Americans and Mexicans who live their lives and do business there. But there's no denying that the proposal helped generate enough Republican votes to propel it out of the Senate.
3. Unanimous Democrats The politics of immigration reform didn't just change for Republicans - they shifted for Democrats as well. The last time Congress took up a bill in 2007, 15 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to defeat it. Labor unions like the AFL-CIO and SEIU were divided over the proposal. But this year, with a Democrat in the Oval Office, party leaders have lined up a virtually unanimous coalition behind immigration reform. Being able to count on 54 votes from the Democratic caucus allowed the bill's supporters to forge broad bipartisan consensus around it.