By Teresa Welsh |
The framework for immigration reform released this week in the Senate is the Washington equivalent of a starter pistol kicking off a foot race. This is the beginning of what is sure to be a long, intense, suspenseful negotiation about how to fix the U.S. immigration system.
The good news: the eight senators, Democrat and Republican, who drafted the framework have gotten the debate off to an excellent start.
The framework is encouraging for two reasons.
First and foremost: substance.
There are many things wrong with America's broken immigration system: outmoded, poorly designed policies and lack of policies that create problems for many different groups of immigrants and Americans alike. Any immigration reform worthy of the name will be a complex package—an engine with many moving parts. And what's promising about the Senate outline is that it addresses, at least in passing, most of the problems that need fixing: visa programs for high-skilled workers and low-skilled workers, immigrants already in the United States and those who might come in the future, enforcement on the border, enforcement in the workplace, U.S. employers, U.S. workers, immigrant families and more.
In other words, the baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes—all of the essential parts. Nothing could be more important at the outset. That's the threshold test for any blueprint.
What has to happen now: Lawmakers have to put flesh on the bones of the outline. And as with any negotiation, the devil will be in the details.
But this is the framework's second strength: the momentum it creates for lawmakers gearing up to grapple with the thorny issues.
For most of the past six years, immigration has been a third-rail issue in Washington. As recently as six months ago, Democrats and Republicans were squabbling over it on the campaign trail. The idea that there might be a bipartisan deal in the works would have seemed laughable in October.
But here we are: It's only January. Many members of Congress are only just settling into their offices. Yet this ambitious group of Democrats and Republicans has already sketched out a bipartisan compromise—and if anything, they're competing with the president to get out ahead on the issue and move it forward.
Why are we all so surprised? Isn't this how Congress is supposed to work? Just when we were starting to think lawmakers had all forgotten how.
About Tamar Jacoby President of ImmigrationWorks USA
Marshall Fitz Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress
Darrell West Director Governance Studies at Brookings Institution
Mark Krikorian Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies
Rosemary Jenks Director of Government Relations at NumbersUSA