After the cause of comprehensive immigration reform ran into a backlash buzzsaw in 2006 and 2007, it was relegated to the political back burner. But the odds are rising that an effective, balanced and long-overdue overhaul will be passed by Congress and signed by the president this year. Even Americans still rightly alarmed over our nation’s all-too-porous southern border should welcome that news.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sounded an encouraging, “I think we’ve got a deal” tone on immigration reform Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Mr. Graham is one of the “Gang of Eight” senators, four from each party, who have been working on a bipartisan immigration proposal. Last week’s agreement between labor and business leaders on wages for low-skilled immigrants helped move the plan forward.
Sen. Graham said he expects the group to unveil its legislative outline this week.
He correctly stressed the need for the bill to advance three overriding goals:
■ “to prevent a third wave of illegal immigration.”
■ “to make sure that the guest-worker program is available to employers who can’t find an American worker” to do the job.
■ to create “a merit-based immigration system with a family component” to help provide the young workers the economy will need over the coming decades.
The Republican-controlled House predictably takes a harder line on immigration than the Democratic-controlled Senate. Yet Sen. Graham expressed optimism that the proposal will “pass in the House because it secures our borders, it controls who gets a job.”
The border-security stipulation will set quantitative benchmarks that must be met before the other aspects of the legislation are implemented.
The necessity of that guarantee was re-confirmed recently when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent this tweet — and a photo capturing the scene — from a visit to the border: “Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us in Nogales.”
Clearly, any attempt to diminish the border-security focus will undermine the immigration package’s chances.
And as Sen. Graham said Sunday: “We’re going to need the president’s support.”
Fortunately, immigration reformers apparently now have that support. Though President Barack Obama was conspicuously reluctant to press this issue beyond occasional lip service during his first term, he has repeatedly identified it as a high-ranking priority this year.
Of course, President Obama’s White House predecessor, George W. Bush, also made a second-term push for immigration reform, to no avail.
Indeed, Sen. Graham’s prominent role in that effort left him with a derogatory nickname — “Lindsey Grahmnesty” — and drew charges that he wasn’t a true conservative.
So what’s so conservative about perpetuating the status quo of a broken immigration system rather than finding common ground to fix it?
As for the “amnesty” label, the “pathway to citizenship” advocated by Sen. Graham, then and now, includes fines, background checks and steady employment.
Another conservative member of the Gang of Eight, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did warn in a statement released Sunday that reports of the group’s agreement on a legislative proposal are “premature.”
But Sen. Rubio also offered this upbeat overview: “We have made substantial progress, and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal that modernizes our legal immigration system, improves border security and enforcement and allows those here illegally to earn the chance to one day apply for permanent residency contingent upon certain triggers being met.”
Sen. Graham sounded similarly optimistic about what the gang will accomplish: “I’m proud of the work product, and I look forward to rolling it out.”
And we look forward to our elected officials in Washington finally delivering comprehensive immigration reform.
Better late than never.