Last weekend, a handful of Republican congressmen tried to tamp down any new momentum for immigration reform. A few lawmakers and party strategists said they doubted reform could pass in the GOP-led House because President Obama could not be trusted to enforce immigration laws.
That argument ignores the fact that Obama has aggressively enforced the existing laws by deporting about 2 million undocumented immigrants — the highest number for any president.
Fortunately, the “just say no’’ to immigration reform faction isn’t the only voice. Last week, wiser GOP heads released a set of immigration principles that have the potential to lead to much-needed compromise on federal immigration laws.
There is nearly universal agreement that the United States’ broken immigration policy should be fixed. Current circumstances send this mixed message: Businesses are eagerly hiring the undocumented workers to fill lower-paying jobs, yet we want all immigrants to follow our cumbersome rules for legal immigration.
To fix those contradictions, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill last year. And following a retreat last week, for the first time House Republican leaders said they would be open to having America’s 12 million undocumented immigrants live and work legally, although the GOP leaders fell short of supporting a “special path’’ for them to become citizens.
The principles say the undocumented must “get right with the law’’ — an important change from the “self-deportation’’ theme some in the GOP have echoed in recent years.
In addition to allowing many immigrants to remain in this country lawfully, the plan would improve the nation’s immigration system and strengthen efforts to combat illegal immigration. Unlike the Senate plan, it would not provide a track to citizenship, except for those brought here illegally by their parents.
Granting some form of legal status to undocumented workers is the right thing to do. It would allow them to come out of hiding and live as full members of society. There should also be a reasonable path to citizenship, but legal status would be a major step forward.
In his State of the Union address, Obama sounded open to compromise to move immigration reform along this year. And so are many pro-immigration groups. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 55 percent of Hispanics believe it is more important to get relief from the threat of deportation than it is to secure citizenship.
Comprehensive legislation also would help address some critical immigration issues that don’t have enough support to survive on their own. It would overhaul the system of visas and green cards for highly skilled workers. And it would strengthen the E-Verify program for checking the status of workers as they apply for jobs.
A good compromise should be possible. House committees already have approved measures that would increase border security, add visas for workers and require employers to use E-Verify. All of those provisions are included in the Senate bill. And there is broad support on both sides of the aisle to offer citizenship to “Dreamers’’ — the 1.7 million young people who were brought to this country illegally as children.
There’s another reason reform should be adopted this year: It would be good for the economy. Obama made that point during his State of the Union address, and economists overwhelmingly say that improving the immigration system will lead to stronger economic growth.
The Republican faction that wants to stop immigration reform appears to be more motivated by politics than what’s right for the country. They’d rather hammer away at problems with Obamacare and avoid immigration action altogether to boost chances at winning more midterm elections.
Our hope is that the more reasonable members of both parties will prevail and make meaningful progress on immigration reform for the good of the country.