Congress is still a long way from signing off on comprehensive immigration reform, but the steps announced by a bipartisan group of senators Monday are worth celebrating for a couple of reasons.
First, the very fact that senators from different parties can still work together despite Washington’s politically toxic atmosphere is noteworthy. That they can find common ground on an issue of such significance is cause for hope that compromise is possible on other contentious issues.
Immigration reform promises to be difficult, even with the declaration of principles and blueprint for reform that eight leading senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — have put forth.
What they envision is a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in this country; strengthened border security; reform of legal immigration and a way to make it easier for employers to verify the legal status of their workers.
President Obama was to speak on immigration reform this afternoon, and House members also are said to be working on a proposal of their own.
Though it’s taken a long time just to reach this point, this will likely be regarded as the easiest part. Satisfying the various congressional contingencies will be difficult, as conservatives will balk at steps toward citizenship for illegal aliens until well after border security is assured.
Even then, demanding that illegal immigrants pass background checks, pay fines and back taxes in order to qualify for probationary status and then get in the back of the line for citizenship could leave many who’ve lived and worked here for years little hope of ever actually becoming citizens.
Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded perturbed to have been presented a bipartisan framework, he would err in erecting unnecessary obstacles to proposals that are certain to face intense scrutiny. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was one of the eight senators to develop this framework, wisely recognizes that the time has come — not just for America but for the Republican Party — to address immigration reform. He didn’t need to repeat that President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November or that the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, had called for illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, acknowledged that previous efforts at immigration reform have failed, but expressed confidence that this endeavor will succeed. He noted that in contrast to prior attempts, there is greater political risk in opposing reform than in supporting it.
That doesn’t ensure success, but it gives advocates momentum they’ll need in the weeks to come.