Now that the election is over, it's time to do something about the nation's broken immigration policy. There are hopeful signs.
President Barack Obama in his election night victory speech said "fixing our immigration system" would be a priority. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "This issue has been around far too long.
A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
The timing is right because border enforcement and the economic downturn have meant that the United States has "net zero" migration for the first time since the 1960s.
A starting point for changing the tone should be President George W. Bush's eloquent description in 2007 of this country's attraction to people the world over: "Past efforts at reform failed to address the underlying economic reasons behind illegal immigration. People will make great sacrifices to get into this country to find jobs and provide for their families.
People are coming here to put food on the table, and they're doing jobs Americans are not doing.
People are coming to work, and many of them have no lawful way to come to America, and so they're sneaking in."
A starting point should be the comprehensive immigration bill of 2006, which had Bush's support, but faltered. The bill addressed the underlying causes of illegal immigration. It increased family-based and employment-based visas and created a guest-worker plan with a path to citizenship. It dealt with current illegal immigrants recognizing that it's not possible to find and deport 5 million men, 4 million women and 2 million children giving them a chance to earn citizenship.
Even with high unemployment, this country does not have enough workers to do jobs in many sectors, including agriculture. Past immigration reforms, such as in 1986, did not address the need for future flows so illegal immigration continued.
Finally, the timing is right because Republicans at least some of them recognize that one of the reasons Obama was re-elected was the Latino vote and the fact that many Latinos were turned off by the harsh anti-immigrant language of some GOP leaders.
Congress should create a commission to make recommendations for adjusting immigration levels over time to meet our needs. The reform also needs to address what happens to the millions of young illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and raised as Americans. Many of them will qualify for delayed deportation under the president's executive order but there needs to be a more certain future for those who are law-abiding residents of this country.
The election seems to have pushed Democrats and Republicans past their polarized positions on immigration reform. Let's have action.