The most important section of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, which could be presented to Congress as early as today, widens the door for immigration by talented individuals with skills the nation needs.
This is a historic and highly desirable change to U.S. laws that have made it very hard for the talented and ambitious from around the world to find a home here. It would undoubtedly help improve the nation’s long-term economic health.
Other aspects of the bill dealing with border security and amnesty for illegal immigrants are likely to be more controversial. As two sponsors, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Like all genuinely bipartisan efforts, this bill is a compromise. It will not please everyone, and no one got everything they wanted.”
Other co-sponsors of the so-called “Gang of Eight” include Republicans Lindsey Graham, S.C.; Marco Rubio, Fla.; and Jeff Flake, Ariz.; and Democrats Richard Durbin, Ill.; Robert Menendez, N.J.; and Michael Bennet, Colo.
Their proposals already have impressively wide support, and point broadly to the right path for reconciling seemingly intransigent differences over immigration that have stymied reform for many years.
That path correctly puts first emphasis on demonstrating that the United States can control its borders and prevent mass illegal immigration of the sort that has allowed millions of people to enter the United States in recent decades.
The number of illegal immigrants has never been fully established. But even with a large voluntary exodus brought on by the recession and the deportation of some 1.6 million persons by the Obama administration, the number is currently estimated to exceed 11 million.
Once border security meets certain specified tests of its effectiveness, illegal immigrants already in the United States prior to last year may eventually qualify for citizenship under the new proposal, but it would be misleading to call this path to citizenship a blanket amnesty. Those who eventually succeed must register, wait more than 10 years before they can apply for the immigration process, and meet other immigration standards. The number who can qualify under this provision would be subject to an annual quota as well as the new limits on so-called “family chain immigration.” The new law would restrict the number of persons with family ties who can legally seek U.S. residence each year.
Through these measures, the proposal seeks to increase the number of talented individuals who can emigrate to the United States and to correct the numerous mistakes that made the last comprehensive immigration reform, in 1986, a failure. It will be tested in congressional hearings and public debate, but in its favor is the fact that the proposal already has the endorsement of such diverse interests as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the American Conservative Union and the National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization.
The “Gang of Eight”has delivered what should rightly be a winner. And it offers welcome evidence that bipartisanship isn’t dead.