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Immigration Reform Marches Forward – And it Should

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Victory in the Senate Expected this Week, Challenge to the House Comes into Focus 

Today, the Senate begins a series of votes that will determine whether immigration reform will moves toward final passage.  Should it pass as expected, the spotlight will turn to the House of Representatives to act on this historic opportunity.  Below is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

We are more optimistic than ever that the Senate is going to pass a good immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority this week.  We urge Senators in both parties to do the right thing and vote yes for reform.

Of course the bill is not perfect, but that’s the nature of compromise.  The Corker-Hoeven border security amendment is terrible public policy and a bitter pill to swallow.  It would waste billions of dollars on useless border fencing and an excessive number of border patrol agents, without taking into consideration the views of those who will be most directly affected by the provisions – border community residents.  We are disappointed that it has taken this amendment to get enough Republicans to ensure passage of the bill.  But make no mistake about it: going forward, this week, in the House, in conference, and when implemented administratively, we will fight to reduce the harmful impacts of this amendment and improve the bill in other ways.

However, at this critical moment, we accept that the amendment must and will be approved to move the bill forward.  We understand this deal comes with an additional 10 or so Republican votes in favor of immigration reform.  The nature of bipartisan compromise is that you have to accept some things you don’t like in order to get the things you do like.  And on balance the Gang of Eight has produced a strong bill and its core elements remain intact.

First and foremost, the bill offers an achievable path to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America.  It is a long and difficult path, but it is attainable.  Instead of living in daily fear of being arrested, detained and deported away from family, work and home, millions of immigrants will be able to live, work and travel freely, and eventually will have a chance to become citizens of the country they call home.  This is not only good for immigrants, it is good for America.  The ‘them’ will become ‘us’ in a way that makes ‘all of us’ stronger.

Second, the bill includes the best version of the DREAM Act ever.  It will allow those who arrived at a young age, attend college or serve in the armed forces to get on a fast-track to citizenship.  These young people are Americans in all but the paperwork.  We have invested in their education.  It makes moral and economic sense to enable them to use their education to contribute to our nation.

Third, the proposed legislation will improve family unity in a number of ways.  Yes, we are dismayed that the bill eliminates the sibling category and restricts the married children category.  But the bill does some good things too.  It ensures that U.S. citizens interested in sponsoring loved ones under our legal immigration system will be able to do in an accelerated fashion.  It clears the family reunification backlog in the next decade.  It allows permanent residents to reunite with spouses and minor children without long waits.  And it permits some families separated by deportation to have the chance to reunite.

Fourth, the bill makes historic progress in finding the right balance between employers and workers in the employment-based immigration reforms.  One of the hardest challenges in fashioning workable immigration policy, the Senate bill does a pretty good job of finding the sweet spot in which the needs of employers wanting to sponsor immigrant workers, the desire of American workers to protect their job opportunities, wages and working conditions and the need to protect immigrant workers from abuse and exploitation are integrated and balanced.  It sets the stage for a long overdue modernization of our antiquated legal immigration system.

How did we get here?  A broad and deep movement that has built power from the bottom up.  A demand from Latino, Asian American and immigrant voters that both parties deliver on a priority issue.  A transformed perspective that now holds immigration reform to be a ‘wedge issue’ that hurts rather than helps Republicans.  A public hunger for workable reform and bipartisan problem-solving.  A group of leaders in Congress from both parties who want to prove that the institution can still accomplish big things.

What’s next?  A moment of truth, especially for Republicans in the Senate and the House.  In the Senate, the dramatic increase in border enforcement will expose Republicans who oppose this package–with the border security excuse demolished, those who vote no on final passage do so because they do not want Latino immigrants to become American citizens.  In the House, where an existing bipartisan majority of members would vote in favor for reform if given the opportunity, the question is whether Republican leadership will allow that majority to express itself or be blamed for blocking it.  The GOP’s ability to win national elections for the next generation may well hang in the balance.

The Congress, and indeed the country, is poised to pass landmark immigration reform.  When Congress passes immigration reform the country will be stronger for it and most immigrants will be better off for it.  The time is now.  We urge members of both parties and both chambers to embrace the opportunity to make history.