Post and Courier
July 31, 2014

Immigration reform, step by step

Posted: 12/01/2013 12:01 a.m.

If passing immigration legislation were an easy task, such a bill would have been signed into law long ago. But there are fresh signs of a possible breakthrough that could achieve overdue repairs of a broken system.

President Barack Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has repeatedly tried — and failed — to get “comprehensive” immigration reform from Congress.

However, President Obama recently sounded willing to ease that “comprehensive” demand. In a Nov. 19 interview before business executives at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council, the president said of House Republicans’ insistence on taking reform one step at a time: “If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like.”

But the president added: “What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it ... but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done.”

The toughest stuff to sell many Republicans on remains a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Lots of conservatives still brand that as “amnesty.”

Conservative radio powerhouse Rush Limbaugh even dubbed our state’s senior senator “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for supporting that avenue to legal status during the second President Bush’s second term.

Sen. Graham, despite considerable pressure from the right, has persisted in that common-sense stance. After all, what is the practical alternative?

An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are already in the United States. The majority of them are productive residents.

The agriculture, construction and hospitality industries depend heavily on immigrant labor.

Reality dictates expanding guest-worker and pathway-to-citizenship opportunities — not just for low-wage workers, but for foreign students who learn high-tech skills at U.S. universities.

That doesn’t mean immigration reform shouldn’t include stronger border security. It certainly doesn’t mean illegal immigrants should be given a free and permanent pass to stay in the U.S.

The comprehensive reform bill that the Senate passed in June does impose significant requirements for illegal immigrants to gain legal standing and ultimately U.S. citizenship. Among those standards crafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which included Sen. Graham: learning English, having a job, waiting in line and paying a fine.

And while the Republican House isn’t ready to pass that bill in full, Speaker John Boehner has expressed his own willingness to move some of its elements forward.

In other words, both the Democratic president and Republican speaker sound ready to compromise on immigration reform.

And the sooner, the better — before the 2014 midterm election cycle hardens positions on both sides of this contentious issue.

Yes, several states, including South Carolina, have passed immigration bills of their own. Those initiatives have prompted complex — and costly — court cases.

But the problems wrought by failed federal immigration policies demand federal solutions.

And if Congress, and the president, want to show that the two parties really can still find common ground, here’s an ideal opportunity to do so — one step at a time.