Immigration reform didn't get anywhere during the last four years of the Bush administration, and President Obama failed to push it during his first four years in office.
Remarkably, this week there are promising signs that Democrats and Republicans may finally be willing and able to reach compromise on comprehensive reform.
A bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators put forth a reasonable set of immigration reform principles on Monday. They aim to have a bill by March, with Senate passage by August.
The House, too, seems interested. After the election, 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." He repeated that view last week, and a bipartisan group of House members has been meeting and will come up with a proposal.
And on Tuesday, the president unveiled his own plan but instead offered support for the framework put forward by the bipartisan Senate committee, with the caveat that he wants something accomplished before the end of the year.
The principles laid out by the senators reflect the basics of what the United States needs to create a working immigration system and that U.S. residents support, as indicated in numerous polls.
First, they aim to address underlying causes of illegal immigration for example, getting rid of visa backlogs and setting a more reasonable number of immigrant visas to prevent future backlogs.
Backlogs force families to live apart for years, which encourages illegal immigration. "We all agree," the senators said in a statement, "that we must reduce backlogs in the family and employment visa categories so that future immigrants view our future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States."
The senators also take on the vexing issue of the existing illegal immigrant population recognizing that it is not possible to round up and deport 5 million men, 4 million women and 2 million children.
Under their set of principles, these folks would have to register with the government, pass a background check, and pay a fine and back taxes. They would then get "probationary legal status." They could not apply for green cards for permanent residency, the first step toward citizenship, until certain border enforcement measures were in place such as the long overdue entry-exit system that tracks whether visitors temporarily here for tourism, business or schooling have left the country at the expiration of their visas. They would then go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.
Children brought illegally to the United States, the "DREAMers," would have a different path to citizenship as would agricultural workers.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has made immigration the first and top priority bill of the new session, numbered S. 1.
This is a good start. If the House and Senate can find common ground on immigration, that could lay the groundwork for successes in addressing other pressing national needs.
AT A GLANCE
The Senate plan was drafted by:
Charles Schumer, New York
Dick Durbin, Illinois
Bob Menendez, New Jersey
Michael Bennet, Colorado
John McCain, Arizona
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
Marco Rubio, Florida
Jeff Flake, Arizona
Schumer: "For the first time ever, there's more political risk in opposing immigration reform than in supporting it."
McCain: "I hope that as more Americans see this proposal, that they will understand that we cannot have, forever, 11 million people living in the shadows in this country."
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