The immigration bill passed by the Democratic Senate on Thursday isn’t perfect. Nor, despite its lopsided 68-32 margin in the upper chamber, is it likely to be approved by the Republican House in its current form.
But the Senate measure does deliver a realistic framework that, after reasonable compromises with the House, could — and should — produce a worthy comprehensive immigration reform bill for President Barack Obama to sign into law this year.
And while there are still fair grounds for criticism of this landmark legislation, its opponents should realize that the status quo also fails to provide sufficient border security.
As for complaints that senators didn’t have enough time to read the nearly 1,200-page bill, The Washington Post reported in a Wednesday “Fact Checker” blog post:
“The overall bill was introduced on April 16 and reported out of the committee on May 21. So much of the legislation has been there, ready to peruse and digest, for more than a month.”
And “the gist” of the 119-page border-security amendment from Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, D-N.D., “has also been known for some time, though the final deal was submitted on Friday afternoon. Thus it sat there, ready to read, for about 75 hours before a cloture vote was taken on Monday.”
Then more than 70 more hours passed before Thursday’s final Senate vote on the overall bill.
So clearly, senators had the time they needed to make a fully informed judgment.
Still, many Americans, in and out of Congress, remain understandably wary of the ugly surprises that can lurk hidden within huge pieces of legislation. After all, the nation is still discovering looming — and troubling — side-effects of the 2,700-plus-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed in 2010 after his fellow Democrats rushed it through both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote.
That significantly raised the trust hurdle facing the Senate immigration bill’s advocates.
Also casting a shadow of doubt on the legislation were late additions of what Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, rightly derided as “special-interest sweeteners.”
Among those pork deals: The bill sets aside $1.5 billion over two years for a dubious “jobs stimulus” program for young people — a concession to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
And it grants exemptions to our largest state’s seafood industry for hiring low-skill illegal immigrants — a favor to Alaska Sens. Mark Begich, a Republican, and Lisa Murkowski, a Democrat.
But even with those flaws, the legislation establishes a balanced baseline from which the Senate and House can advance long-overdue immigration reform.
And yes, “a pathway to citizenship” — a route that includes a criminal background check, a fine, having a job and waiting through a long process — is a necessary step in solving the problem of illegal immigration.
So, of course, is securing America’s southern border. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that crafted the legislation, has hailed the Corker-Hoeven amendment for “practically militarizing the border” in addressing those security concerns.
Now it’s the House’s turn to pass an effective immigration reform bill of its own. And if, as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned Thursday, that requires the support of a majority of the House’s Republicans, so be it.
Then it will be up to both the House and Senate to forge a final compromise — and to finally fix our nation’s broken immigration system.