More than five months after a national election that made it clear where America’s future lies, a bipartisan group of senators has produced an immigration blueprint that contains the essential elements of a workable reform plan: a path to citizenship, tighter security at the border, and fairness for those who have been waiting for years to enter the country legally.
In the coming weeks, the battle in Congress will be about the finer points of the plan. Details are important. For instance, a 13-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been here illegally seems too long, and the demands for border enforcement may be unattainable and could require significant changes.
There will be time to debate these issues. But no one who cares about reform should lose sight of the larger point: Well-intentioned, reasonable lawmakers can fashion an acceptable proposal that irons out the details without scuttling the larger project.
It represents the most ambitious attempt in a quarter-century to create a just and fair immigration system. The plan presented by the bipartisan Gang of Eight would achieve the goal that advocates of sensible reform have spent years fighting for: to bring the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows. They get a shot at a normal life in the United States, a life in which they won’t have to fear deportation on any given day, no matter how long they’ve lived here and how hard they’ve worked to build a piece of the American Dream.
Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean that winning approval will be easy. Look at what happened to gun control. Already, opponents are making false claims that the immigration bill constitutes amnesty for lawbreakers and will open the floodgates to a new stream of illegal entrants.
These are scare tactics. Advocates of reform will have to redouble their energies to refute them, especially if the Senate approves a viable reform measure and it goes to the House, where objections are likely to be more numerous and more extreme, and opposition more intransigent.
What makes reform feasible, despite the obstacles, is that it suits the interests of both parties.
Democrats have a chance to deliver on a promise that President Obama made back in 2008 and which other members of his party have been advocating for years.
Republicans may have even more at stake. During the primary season last year, their presidential aspirants vied with each other to see which ones could come up with the most extreme anti-immigrant views. (The craziest may have been the idea of turning the Rio Grande into an alligator-infested moat to dissuade illegal crossers. Whatever happened to Herman Cain?) In the end, President Obama won more than seven of every 10 Hispanic votes. The message to the GOP was clear: You need to change your stance on immigration or face political extinction.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gamely stepped up. As a junior senator, he could have dodged the call, but, to his credit, he became the indispensable member of the Gang of Eight because he is Hispanic and conservative. He has come under fire from some of his tea party supporters, but he may gain other supporters through his leadership.
In the House, South Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has been a key figure in coming up with a blueprint for reform, despite his party’s aversion to resolving the immigration mess.
If immigration reform finally passes, it will be in no small part thanks to the leadership displayed by these two Miami lawmakers.