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Senator Graham: Deporting 12 Million Won’t Work, Need a Comprehensive Immigration Fix

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Yesterday Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator from South Carolina, stood up for a comprehensive fix to our badly damaged immigration system. Graham has been crafting bipartisan legislation with Senator Schumer for some time now, and details of the bill are expected soon.

Senator Graham makes the case, in an interview with Brian Goldsmith, that the frenzied attempts to define comprehensive reform as “Amnesty” are as ludicrous as the enforcement-only alternative to real reform: the dangerous (and costly) notion that we can deport or jail twelve million people– the number of unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S.

Marc Ambinder reports for The Atlantic:

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: You’re one of the few Republicans fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, which most Republicans have called amnesty. Where do you think that stands?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well I think the idea of border security as a confidence builder is the way to start. Most Americans are very practical and reasonable. They’re upset about broken borders and our out-of-control immigration system. They will buy into a comprehensive solution if we can prove to them, and only if we can prove to them, we don’t have twenty million more illegal immigrants, ten years, twenty years down the road.

And when it comes to the illegal alien population, if the definition of amnesty is you got to deport twelve million people, or put twelve million people in jail, then we’ll never have a comprehensive solution, because that’s just not workable, it’s not practical.

To me, amnesty would be forgiving people, like Ronald Reagan did, with no consequence, and not repairing the system. Amnesty is what we have today. What I would like to see is the illegal immigrant population come out of the shadows, be biometrically identified, be required to learn English, pay the fines for their crime, and get right with the law. If they want to be a citizen, get in the back of the line, not break into line.

And to my Republican colleagues, I can understand the politics of this is difficult. Big things are hard to do. But I believe in 2008, we lost a lot of ground with the Hispanic community because of the rhetoric and the tone we set on immigration.

The cost of deporting these 12 million unauthorized immigrants has been pegged at anywhere from $100 billion (an estimate by ICE, Immigration Customs and Enforcement) to $230 billion dollars over 5 years (according to a Center for American Progress analysis cited in  the Washington Post), with a loss of 2.6 billion to our GDP. On the other hand, new studies show that immigration reform would bring about a $1.5 trillion boon to our economy.

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the progressive political blog Daily Kos, argues in “Immigration reform would be good for the economy:”

Anti-immigrant forces are hoping the bad economy gives them ammo to scuttle the common-sense legalization of 10-15 million undocumented workers in this country. The thinking goes, since so many Americans have no jobs, there would be little appetite to grant “illegals” the right to stay and work.

That may have some rhetorical power, even if few Americans are lining up to work in slaughterhouses or as day laborers. But fact is, normalizing their status would be a huge boost to the economy.

Bottom line is that the Senator is right: when it comes to immigration reform, we can’t afford to wait. Or to take the simplistic “No Amnesty!” bait.