National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Media

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Gains Momentum

March 31, 2006

Washington, DCThe full Senate began to debate immigration reform this past week.  The bill that will be debated and amended is the Senate Judiciary Committee bill that was approved by 12-6 bipartisan majority this past Monday.  If passed, the bill would have to be reconciled with an enforcement-only measure passed by the House last December and would then need to be signed by the President to become law.  The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington.


The U.S. Senate began an historic debate this week on how best to overhaul our dysfunctional immigration system.  In stark contrast to the enforcement-only bill enacted by the House of Representatives and the enforcement-heavy bill introduced by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the basis for the Senate debate is an “enforcement-plus” package approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.


The signs of momentum towards workable, comprehensive reform that combines border security, workplace enforcement, future flow visas for workers and families, and a path to earned citizenship for those here illegally are mounting.  A surprising number of Senators from both parties are announcing their support for the Senate Judiciary Committee bill as containing the right architecture and the right approach.  The President is speaking up forcefully, if generally, and appears to be leaning in the direction of the Senate Judiciary Committee approach to comprehensive reform.  House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) announced his openness to a compromise with an enforcement-plus Senate bill.  Opinion leaders as diverse as George Will, David Broder, David Brooks, Joe Klein, Bill Kristol, Mara Liaisson, Mort Kondracke, Fred Barnes, and Juan Williams have spoken out in support of comprehensive reform that is both tough and fair.  And we dare you to name another issue in which the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the New York Times editorial page are in full agreement.


The reasons for the shift in momentum?  1) Public opinion: The American people are frustrated with the broken immigration system, and want solutions, even if they are uncertain about best way to do it.  2) Immigrants rising: in recent weeks, immigrant families have turned out in record numbers to protest punitive policies that denigrate their hard work, while expressing their yearning to become full members of society.  3) Political leadership: This is a moment that cries out for political leadership, and finally, a group of Senators had the courage to stand up and approve a bold, comprehensive plan that combines enhanced enforcement with enhanced legal channels for immigrants. 


As a result, the winds are shifting and the debate is changing.  A legitimate solution that is consistent with our nation’s interests and ideals is squarely on the table.  And the anti-immigration loud mouths that have dominated the debate in recent years seem increasingly shrill and marginalized.  The loud mouths are being passed by because their taunts, slogans, and vacuous sound-bites are all rant and no resolution.  The heated rhetoric fans anger and boosts talk show ratings, but it doesn’t solve the problem. 


The debate is getting serious. The problem-solvers are taking over.  Challenging questions are being asked and addressed:  How do we fix our broken immigration system in a way that is consistent with both our interests and ideals?  How can we integrate the need for control of our borders with the need for immigrant workers?  How do we restore respect for the rule of law and restore respect for the law of supply and demand?  How best can we combine enforcement and legality so that these actions pull together rather than push apart?


We welcome this long overdue debate. Getting it right and getting it done won’t be easy.  Immigration reform never is.  But the principles that should guide us as we move forward are both traditional and modern: restore the rule of law, reward work, reunite families, respect rights, and renew citizenship as the cornerstone of our immigration system.  And when the going gets tough, we recommend the members of Senate draw inspiration from the courage manifested this past week by the 12 courageous members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who took a stand. 


 

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