Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

U.S. Senator Harry Reid on the DREAM Act and the Colombia and Panama FTAs.

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Americas Quarterly: In your re-election campaign, you spoke about the need to pass the dream Act and its pathway to authorized status for the children of undocumented immigrants to attend college or to serve in the military. Why?

Senator Reid: We cannot continue to kick the immigration problem down the road. We tried twice last year [2010] to pass the dream Act as a stepping stone toward comprehensive immigration reform. We started with the dream Act in part because it is a measure that is bipartisan in origin (co-authored by Orrin Hatch, R-UT), and many Republicans in the last Senate had voted for it before. Unfortunately, when we presented it again at the end of 2010, all but three Republicans opposed it. The dream Act would have reduced our budget deficit, made our nation safer, and given the opportunity of a future to tens of thousands of deserving young people who want to go to college or serve their nation in the military. That is why we needed to pass the dream Act as soon as possible.

AQ: How does the now-Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate affect your strategy to pass comprehensive immigration reform?

Reid: My goal is still to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, punishes employers who exploit immigrant labor and undercut American wages, and requires those living in the shadows to register with the government, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, and then go to the back of the line.

My hope is that the Republicans will work with us on a comprehensive approach that addresses the many complex components necessary to fix our broken system.

AQ: Looking at the new Congress, what will be the policy priorities for strengthening the U.S. relationship with Latin America?

Reid: I have traveled extensively in the region. My first two foreign trips as Majority Leader were to Latin America because I believed we needed to refocus on our neighborhood. It is precisely because we share strong cultural and economic ties with the region that Latin America should be a natural priority for us.

AQ: The Colombia and Panama Trade Promotion Agreements have yet to be discussed in Congress since they were first signed in 2007. What is the likelihood they will be voted on in this term?

Reid: As we saw with the recent negotiations regarding the South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with determination and resolve, these types of agreements can be made more just and balanced and attract a broader array of support in Congress. As a result, I anticipate the administration will act quickly next year to try to get congressional approval of the South Korea FTA.

It is my understanding the Obama administration is working with the leadership of Colombia and Panama to address different areas of concern for members of Congress. These discussions, and the outcomes they will lead to, are key to finding a way forward with those agreements. As we have seen before, sending an agreement up before building support in Congress is counterproductive. At the end of the day, what we want are agreements that are fair to American workers, farmers and businesses and that deal fairly with our friends and allies.

AQ: Nevada’s Hispanic voters supported you overwhelmingly in the 2010 midterm elections. How will campaign strategies ahead of the 2012 presidential election shift in response to the growing importance of Hispanic voters, especially with the 2010 census showing their increasing share of the U.S. population?

Reid: When I started working with Nevada’s Latino community more than 20 years ago, I was criticized by many: why do you waste time with them? People told me that Hispanics don’t register to vote and that even when they do, they don’t vote. The last two election cycles have proven me right. I would not be here were it not for the solid Hispanic support I received. As you said, this will become the norm rather than the exception.

What this means for the political establishment of states like Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida is that you can no longer ignore this giant because it is no longer sleeping. Further, my friends from across the aisle cannot continue to alienate this large group of Americans with divisive rhetoric and policies. Latinos have shown they pay attention to what political leaders do and say; and yes, they do register and they do vote.


Matthew Aho is a consultant in the corporate practice group at Akerman LLP.

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