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Growing Consensus from Politicos and Pundits: We Must Push for Immigration Reform with Pathway to Citizenship

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immigration reformAs we head into another big week in immigration—President Obama is expected to mention immigration in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, as will Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in his rebuttal; also the Senate will hold an immigration hearing on Wednesday—here’s a roundup of weekend talk shows and editorials that continue to stress the need for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

On Fox News with Chris Wallace yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) denied that immigration reform could be considered “amnesty” and questioned what Republicans want to do with 11 million Americans-in-waiting instead:

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): Under your plan, though [undocumented immigrants] wouldn’t get the path to citizenship until you got the border enforcement certification, they would almost immediately gate what is called “probationary legal status” which means they can continue to live in this country legally. Some of your critics on the right are saying that is amnesty.

McCAIN: Well, I don’t think it is amnesty to start with. Second of all, what do you want to do with them? That is the question in response and third of all, it is a tough path to citizenship, you have to pay back tax and learn English and have to have a clear record and get to the back of the line behind to the people who have come here legally or waiting legally. So, i just reject that.

Former Speaker of the House and former presidential contender Newt Gingrich said something similar in a letter to his supporters on Friday, when he stressed that the anti-immigrant positions taken up by Republicans in the 2012 primaries were damaging to the party, and not anchored in reality:

I write this because as the current immigration debate heats up it is critical for us to recognize that words and attitudes really matter. Understanding what people hear matters. We may not mean to say what people hear we say. After decades in politics this is a lesson I have learned the hard way. As a party, we simply cannot continue with immigration rhetoric that in 2012 became catastrophic — in large part because it was not grounded in reality.

A Bloomberg editorial this weekend holds that Republicans cannot insist on further securing the border before acting on immigration reform—because we need immigration reform to help secure the border:

There’s a basic chicken-and-egg problem that has long bedeviled the U.S. immigration debate: What comes first, a secure border or effective reform?

For decades, “securing our borders” has been the rallying cry among many Americans concerned about illegal immigration. The blueprint on immigration reform recently released by a bipartisan Senate group states that the path to legalized status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is “contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.” This sentiment is echoed by conservatives in the House and in many statehouses, particularly in the Southwest.

Unfortunately, this formulation has it exactly backward. To achieve a secure border, we must first have effective immigration reform.

Here’s why: The U.S. has about 7,000 miles of land border, 95,000 miles of shoreline and thousands of airports. There’s no way this vast expanse can ever be truly secure. In addition to illegal migrants, more than 50 million tourists arrive legally in the U.S. each year, some of whom overstay their visas.

The U.S. now spends about $18 billion a year on immigration control, more than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled in recent years, reaching more than 21,000. The use of fencing, drones and other enforcement measures has been sharply upgraded…

Thus the secret of immigration reform isn’t first to secure the border before setting undocumented workers right with the law. It’s the reverse: First create a regime that ensures the legal status of workers, with a regulated supply of migrants and sharp penalties for employers who violate the law…

The notion that the border can be made secure by law enforcement and technology alone is a fantasy. If we want to secure the border, Congress must first secure immigration reform.

An editorial from The Nation agrees that we cannot hold citizenship hostage in immigration reform while anti-immigrant opponents continue to debate whether the border is secure enough:

This moment holds the tantalizing prospect of relief for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants—but not without a price. There are two main components of “comprehensive” immigration reform: a path to citizenship, and increased enforcement of immigration laws. The former is desperately needed; the latter amounts to more of what we don’t need….

There are signs that the stars are aligning in favor of reform, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. The real battle begins now. At the core of any bill must be an accessible and relatively speedy path to citizenship for our undocumented neighbors. On this there is no room for compromise. The Senate framework already proposes one roadblock, preventing any legalization process until a commission of Southwestern politicians and leaders attests that the border is “truly secure.” Long-awaited relief should not be held hostage by anti-immigrant ideologues like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. President Obama appears aware of this danger, as he wisely left such a requirement out of his guidelines for reform.

Eric Olson and Christopher Wilson at Politico stress what many others have said—that the border is now more secure than ever, and should not be used as an excuse to not pursue immigration reform:

So before Congress and the Obama administration fall into the reflexive pattern of conditioning immigration reform on border security and spending additional money to further beef up the Border Patrol, we suggest they take a close look at what has already been done and whether more of the same is really the answer. As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently said at the Wilson Center, “We’re getting to the point of diminishing marginal returns. What would really help us is if we could improve the legal migration system so that people come through our ports of entry.”

Instead of making another border buildup a pre-condition for immigration reform, border security should be addressed in a way complementary to immigration reform. To do so, two things are needed. First, clearer metrics for border security must be established so we can ensure limited resources are directed to where they can best protect the nation. Second, rather than more border security, we need better border management. Creating more legal avenues for workers to enter and depart the U.S. in an orderly fashion also serves as a disincentive to illegal immigration and allows law enforcement to focus its energy on more dangerous traffic.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger makes it clear that obstructing immigration reform will continue to be a losing proposition for Republicans:

But now it appears some Republicans are eager to snatch another defeat from the jaws of their last electoral defeat.

In the first of several planned congressional hearings on reform, a few Republican representatives bristled at the thought of providing a path to citizenship. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) all but whined, “How is that a compromise?”

Gowdy and other hardliners have no interest in bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows, where they can work and pay taxes. Instead, they wonder, why can’t we seal the borders and keep punishing those who are here already? Short of costly deportation, let’s keep them twisting in the wind. The thought of a path to legalization — amnesty, as many right-wing bloggers will screech at you — is offensive to them, akin to waving the white flag of our impotent laws.

What they should find deeply offensive is the idea of creating second-class citizens, a constant underclass with no incentive to join the mainstream of American society…

Republicans digging in their heels need to get with the plan, the one that doesn’t insult American traditions, and gives those here a chance to prove themselves worthy of citizenship.

And Ellen Dumensnil at the San Jose Mercury News reminds us that we are stronger as a nation when we remember our diversity and our shared immigrant past:

Can it be in our collective best interest to have an estimated 11 million individuals living in our country who have no clear path to a more promising future?

Can it benefit our society to have youth who have known no other home other than the United States to daily fear the threat of deportation?

Do we want to live in a society where we force people to separate from their families?

Are we a more perfect union when those we entrust with our children, the care of our homes, the tending of our crops and myriad other critical services, are referred to as “aliens?”

All of us have an immigrant past. Let’s commit to a future that recognizes the value in embracing the diversity that has made us such a great land. It is time for comprehensive immigration reform.