National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Immigration Reform Lives!

June 15, 2007

Washington, DCLast night, an agreement was announced that could pave the way for reconsidering the bipartisan Senate immigration bill on the Senate floor before the July 4 recess.  The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington.

Following last Thursday’s failed cloture vote on the Senate immigration bill, many declared immigration reform legislation in this Congress dead.  Fortunately, a small group of determined leaders brought it back to life.  This is good news for the nation, for immigrant communities, and for our political system.  It means that, at least in this instance, bipartisan cooperation trumped partisan polarization and political courage won out over political posturing.

Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) deserve praise for rescuing the immigration bill when it looked down and out.  Both have been under pressure from members of their own caucuses to shelve the immigration bill as too hard, too risky, and too controversial.  Instead of bending to these pressures, they stood firm.  Score one for leaders that lead.

The Senators from both parties who crafted the ‘Grand Bargain’ compromise, as well as the President and his Administration, deserve enormous credit for getting to yes rather than yielding to no.  Well aware that no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to immigration reform, they nevertheless forged ahead even as they plucked arrows out of each others’ backs.  Score another for political courage.

Immigrant communities also deserve recognition for their part in this dramatic turnaround.  Just a few weeks ago it seemed that immigrants and immigrant advocates were divided and demoralized by the prospect of an imperfect reform.  But the failed vote last Thursday seemed to focus the minds of many and skepticism was overtaken by activism.  In just the past few days, a million letters in favor of comprehensive reform were delivered to Congress, hundreds of community and religious leaders came to Washington DC to insist that reform make a comeback, and vigils and activities were held throughout the nation.  Score yet one more for democratic participation.

Still, there is a long way to go from a Reid-McConnell handshake to Senate passage.  Some Senators seem determined to use procedural maneuvers to thwart reform, others want poison pill amendments enacted, and getting to 60 votes on cloture and 50 votes on final passage is far from assured.  Advocates for this important if imperfect bill will have to overcome all of these formidable challenges.  And yet, the fact that immigration reform has risen from the political ashes gives us hope that comprehensive immigration reform just might be an idea whose time has come.

If immigration reform survives the Senate gauntlet, the spotlight would then turn to the House of Representatives.  The signs so far are encouraging.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been strong and sure; promising to work on a bipartisan basis to bring up the issue shortly after the Senate completes its work.  Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), in cooperation with leaders from the Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, and Black Caucuses, seems prepared to move on immigration reform and to make it more workable.  And a number of brave Republican House members are gearing up to work with their colleagues from across the aisle to push for an historic breakthrough on an issue that many of their House colleagues would prefer to demagogue.

So, today is a good day.  America, its political system, and her immigrants have much to gain by moving forward, and much to lose if we fail to act.  But this celebration comes with a caution.  We will not and cannot support any old reform package.  If the policy devolves into an unworkable mess as the process moves forward, we will be compelled to shift from support to opposition.  We fervently hope to never get there.  Our intention and our commitment is to achieve workable legislation this year.  For us, and the nation, a workable bill is one that secures the border, evens the playing field for employers, protects the rights of workers, legalizes the undocumented population living, working, and raising families here, streamlines the currently clogged visa system, and sets the table for making law and order the prevailing norm in our immigration system. 

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