There is a lot to work out before the Senate, White House and soon-to-be-revealed House plans to reform the nation’s immigration system can become law.
But there is also a lot to like, not the least that the issue is finally bipartisan and front-and-center in Washington.
Last week the Senate and then the president announced far-reaching, but short-on-detail, legislation to deal with the illegal immigrants already in the country, toughen border security, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and encourage highly educated/highly skilled immigrants to bring/keep their expertise in the United States. The House, which has had members discussing the issue in secret for years to avoid political backlash, is expected to announce its own version this month.
Both the Senate and President Obama’s plans mention having illegal immigrants register with the government, pass background checks, pay fees, penalties and back taxes, and wait until backlogs are cleared before lining up for green cards. An additional Senate proposal drastically increases the number of H1-B visas, given to highly skilled workers, from 65,000 a year to between 115,000 and 300,000. It also would allow spouses of H-1B holders to get jobs for the first time and would eliminate the cap on visas for immigrants with master’s degrees or higher.
Those are pragmatic starting points that acknowledge the nation’s current immigration reality (an estimated 11 illegal immigrants already here), as well as its security concerns (can you say 6 tons of pot in one recent stop at New Mexico’s border?) and economic needs (companies such as Microsoft and Intel have been lobbying for high-tech foreign workers).
New Mexico’s congressional Democrats are on board, and Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., is proposing specifics that deserve consideration, including separate tracks that protect immigrants who just want to work here, honor those who have obeyed immigration laws and provide a system for those who want to put down roots.
As with all complex legislation, there will be much discussion and debate, and the devil will be in the details. But it is heartening that the immigration reform discussion is finally out of the shadows.
This may be the year the nation’s illegal immigrants finally get to come out of them as well.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.