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Julie Notarianni, MCT/Seattle Times

Editorial: Immigration baby steps

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Star Tribune
  • December 11, 2012 - 8:14 PM

The Obama administration's promise to push for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy early next year is good news. That both Democratic and Republican lawmakers aren't waiting is better yet.

Members of both parties are finally talking about an issue that has paralyzed the country for far too long. Not much has happened since 2007, when President George W. Bush's own Republican Party dealt the fatal blow to his push for reform.

That was also the year the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States peaked at 12 million. Today, lawmakers face different challenges, as the undocumented population has dropped to 11.1 million, largely due to a steep decline of Mexican immigrants and increased border security and deportations.

America's growing diversity, evidenced by the impact of the Latino vote on the November election, awakened both parties to the reality that it is in their best interests, as well as the nation's, to consider reform. To that end, partisan and bipartisan efforts are taking shape.

This month the House passed the STEM Jobs Act, a recycled, Republican-driven measure that increases the number of visas for immigrants earning advanced degrees in engineering, math, science and technology from U.S. universities. Senate Republicans introduced the "Achieve Act," which offers a reprieve for eligible undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Unfortunately, both measures have flaws. The Achieve Act fails to offer the pathway to citizenship included in the DREAM Act and, therefore, doesn't move the country forward. The STEM bill needlessly drives down overall immigration rates and eliminates the diversity lottery visa.

Despite their shortcomings, the measures hit on the key issues. Both parties see the wisdom in keeping immigrants who earn high-tech degrees in America's workforce rather than sending them back home to work for competitors.

While the White House hopes for an overall immigration reform bill, some GOP lawmakers prefer a piecemeal approach. In either case, let's hope the good ideas won't be tanked by partisan agendas. As former President Bush said last week, may the policy discussions be done with a "benevolent spirit" that keeps in mind "the contribution of immigrants."

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