Lining up an agenda for an election year and beyond, Republican leaders in the U.S. House issued a blueprint for immigration reform last week. The step is long overdue and welcome. Several attempts at fixing the nation’s immigration problems have died in Congress during the past decade, lawmakers unable to make the compromises required to address the pressure to bring millions of people out of the shadows as well as the growing needs of businesses for specialized workers.
The Senate passed an overhaul bill with bipartisan support in June. That House leaders get credit for raising the possibility of legislation is a measure of the divisiveness within the Republican fold. Still, the principles outlined for a potential immigration bill hardly amount to a big leap. For the 11 million or so people who live in the country illegally, the blueprint would offer legal status — but not a pathway to citizenship — after certain conditions are met, including paying fines and taxes, passing a criminal background check and showing mastery of English.
“Dreamers,” young residents who were brought illegally into the country as children, would be able to apply for legal residence and citizenship. The proposals also call for a visa monitoring system that tracks when visitors leave the country and stricter enforcement of hiring laws and the worker verification system.
In offering legal status, House leaders acknowledge the futility in thinking that mass detentions and deportations eventually would resolve the problem of illegal residency. After all, the attraction of cheap, undocumented labor is responsible for no small part of this situation. House leaders are right to push past the objection that legalization in any form is “amnesty” and an affront to the nation’s laws.
But if the blueprint is realistic in that way, it also undercuts the promise of progress on immigration legislation. The House plan insists that nothing happen regarding legalization and the creation of guest-worker programs until steps for enforcing border security have been implemented. Clearly, this stance, along with blocking a path to citizenship and stripping the president of discretionary power on deportations, aims to quiet objections within Republican ranks.
This is unfortunate. Huge investments have been made in border patrols and technology to beef up border security, the bulk of the spending coming since 2001. Also, much to the chagrin of its Democratic base, the Obama White House has reached record levels of deportations enforcing the laws for immigration violations. It makes little sense to put essential reforms on indefinite hold for a perfect state of border security.