The political ice jam that’s been blocking immigration reform may have broken at last.
On Monday, key Republican senators joined key Democratic senators in announcing a plan for dealing with America’s long-festering illegal immigration problem.
The endorsement of Marco Rubio of Florida is especially promising: At the moment, at least, he’s the Republican Party’s strongest presidential prospect for 2016, and he carries considerable weight in the party.
The sound you don’t hear (so far) is a chorus of firebrands shouting “No amnesty!” or “What part of illegal do you not understand?” Mantras like that have helped kill past efforts to legalize the millions of undocumented immigrants who are firmly rooted in the United States and aren’t going away.
Many of them have broken no law since entering the country and have children who are U.S. citizens. Some American farmers – especially Washington orchardists – can’t get their crops harvested without illegal labor.
There’s no conceivable scenario under which as many as 11 million illegal immigrants could be forced out of the country. But the status quo is intolerable. The only solution lies in letting the honest majority of them emerge from the shadows – without creating a grand incentive for further illegal immigration.
Monday’s plan lays out a set of principles for doing this. Most of them have been obvious for many years:
• Employers would be required – under the threat of heavy sanctions – to verify the legal status of all new hires.
• The nation’s borders would be strictly controlled.
• Undocumented immigrants with no serious criminal records would receive probationary legal status on condition that they register, pay fines and clear criminal background checks. Criminals from other countries could then be isolated and detected more easily.
• As a matter of fairness to those who played by the rules, the undocumented population would be offered permanent status only after prospective legal immigrants received that privilege. Green cards would be contingent on studying English and civics, and holding down jobs.
• The plan would fast-track farm workers and highly skilled specialists, as well as young people who were brought across the border as children.
Various loud factions in the immigration battle would welcome some part of this plan while hating other parts. But only an all-of-the-above package has any chance of getting through Congress.
The toughest opposition to comprehensive reform has come from House Republicans. But as the November elections demonstrated, the anti-amnesty rants aren’t doing their party any good. Even the most hidebound opponents of legalization may finally be experiencing a moment of clarity.