January 9, 2014
Could comprehensive immigration reform rise like a phoenix in the coming months?
Despite being mired in the soul-killing swamp of congressional stagnation, legislation to fix the convoluted process that determines who we allow into the country is showing vague signs of life. It's one of the few pieces of legislation on which Republicans and Democrats could and should come together, given the fact that a broad national consensus has developed about why we need it.
Key to any hope for reform is House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has added to his staff a longtime immigration adviser to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and whose acid comments about tea party recalcitrance would suggest that he might be serious about reform.
Aides have said he is committed to what he calls a "step by step" approach to reform rather than the comprehensive approach the Democratic-controlled Senate adopted last year.
The aides didn't specify what steps he might have in mind. Boehner also is reportedly about to release a statement of principles for overhauling the nation's immigration laws. The statement would be a Republican counterpoint to the Senate bill.
The most likely window of opportunity would be in late spring, after most Republican lawmakers have gotten past their primary campaigns, with the goal of reaching a compromise that President Barack Obama could sign before the 2014 midterm election campaigns heat up next fall.
The best approach would be for the House to take up the Senate's comprehensive plan, although that's unlikely. According to news reports, Boehner has told his leadership team that he does not plan to enter into conference negotiations using the Senate bill as a framework.
For House Republicans, the primary sticking point is a path to eventual citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. The Senate bill requires a 13-year-long process and a fine, but even that is too much for hardliners who see the undocumented as lawbreakers who don't deserve any citizenship consideration.
Our hope is that more reasonable heads prevail. Resolving the uncertain status of the undocumented among us (and particularly their children), instituting a workable guest-worker program, addressing border security and revising a convoluted system for would-be documented immigrants is the fair thing to do. It's also an investment in this nation's economic future, as Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the United States Chamber of Commerce, noted in the New York Times.
"Why?" Donohue asked rhetorically. "Because throughout history immigrants have brought innovation, ideas and investments to American enterprise, and in terms of demographics, we need immigration."
We do, indeed. More immediately, we need immigration reform.