America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry appeared on Al Punto with Jorge Ramos yesterday, along with Jorge Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA and Katherine Vargas of the National Immigration Forum, to talk about immigration reform with a path to citizenship, along with the challenges and politics that accompany the issue. Univision is the top-rated Spanish-language channel and the fourth-ranked network overall. Watch the segment(s) below:
Here’s a partial transcript and translation:
Jorge Ramos: Is reform going to happen? There’s so much information out there, can we assure people that we will have immigration reform this year?
Frank Sharry: I’m very optimistic. It’s a long and tough legislative process, from 6 to 9 months, and we need to mobilize to demand immigration reform. I’m optimistic because the American people, as evidenced by many polls, are in favor of immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The Democrats are more united than ever, and Republicans need it to survive politically. We can’t assure anything, but I think this is a great moment that we haven’t seen before.
Ramos: What’s different this time? In the past we’ve failed, we didn’t get immigration reform, so what’s different?
Katherine Vargas: The political stage changed fundamentally these last elections, when Latino voters gave a clear mandate that they wanted immigration reform. Now Republicans not only know that they need immigration reform to survive, but they’re listening to their conservative base, evangelicals and businesses who are pressuring for reform. So we have all the ingredients for immigration reform this year, and it must happen soon.
Ramos: What didn’t we do before, and what are you doing in community groups that is different this time around?
Jorge Mario Cabrera: First of all, making sure in both chambers of congress that we have the necessary votes.
Ramos: How do you make sure of that?
Cabrera: The perspective in the Senate is much better because they know that the Latino vote this time made the difference in many strategic places. But also, there are people looking to the future. This group that now wants to legalize, is the one that is going to elect people in the future, both Democrats and Republicans. Second, there is something very important that needs to be said, that after 10 years, 4 million immigrants have been deported. This is a human crisis that no one can ignore.
Ramos: I’ve been listening to many Republicans say that we can give them legalization but not citizenship. You and I have talked to immigrants that have told us all they want is to have a work permit and not get deported, why don’t you like that idea?
Sharry: I think we’re at a point where we can say that we’ve already won that legalization. However, what we want is an immigration reform that will treat people equally and that will give the option to any immigrant to obtain citizenship if they want it. If not, they’ll be in a status without citizenship for their entire life and that’s not healthy for them or for our society.
Vargas: Latino voters didn’t go out in November to get second class status. They want their brothers and neighbors to have access to citizenship and be like everyone else. Besides, it’s not in the Republican Party’s best interest to be the party that said no to Latinos, you can’t get citizenship, and that went against the immigrant tradition in our country.
Ramos: It’s not a good idea to give legalization without citizenship?
Cabrera: No, we have already done it twice, with slaves and with the Chinese. So why are we now going to deny citizenship to a group of people that is so dynamic and good for our country? Maybe not everyone wants it, but at least give them the choice.
Ramos: So what do you say to the people that don’t want to vote, they just want to be here legally?
Cabrera: They need to have the option. Just like you and I had the option to become citizens at some point and get to where we are, the immigrant community should have that option as well.
Sharry: In this country we have the tradition that all immigrant groups come and have the option for citizenship. How are we going to tell Latinos you don’t deserve citizenship? That goes completely against the values and traditions in this country.
Ramos: Where did we go wrong in the past? And what have each of you learned so that this year things are different?
Sharry: I think that before our movement wasn’t as strong. We didn’t have DREAMers telling the truth, they have changed the political environment tremendously. We also didn’t have the Latino vote as strong. And truthfully Republicans are in the defensive, and they have to decide if they want to survive as a political party or not. That is a huge advance from 5 to 6 years ago.
Vargas: We did marches but we didn’t show that we had political power. Now with the election we can demonstrate that we have that political muscle. Also, we are hearing from conservative groups that this isn’t just a Latino cause but a cause that benefits the entire country. They are also reminding us that there are economic benefits to immigration reform.
Ramos: I remember the marches from a few years, we thought we had immigration reform, and we didn’t get it.
Cabrera: We thought that politicians were our friends. Truthfully, we need to be strategic. They are our allies, more now than before. However, we need to keep reminding them daily that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.
Ramos: What can President Obama do, is he doing the right thing?
Sharry: I think he is, he has to respect the bipartisan project in the Senate. He has to be ready to interfere if that process is in trouble but I think that the bipartisan process will come with a bill that will be good, not perfect, but viable.
Vargas: Sell immigration reform to the public, in the same way that Obama spoke in Las Vegas about why immigration helps this country. We need to continue running a political campaign of why immigration reform is beneficial.
Cabrera: Definitely, this president is saying ‘this will be my legacy’. Latinos are part of America and therefore, immigration reform is good for America, not just for them.
Ramos: If I talk to you in 6 months to you think we’ll be on our way?
Sharry: Yes, definitely
Vargas: Yes, the process has already started.