Thursday, January 30, 2014

We're getting closer to real, substantive immigration reform

Republican U.S. House members today released their guiding principles for a debate on immigration reform.

The Senate last year passed its own immigration package, but the GOP principles document in its preamble makes clear that the House legislation won’t go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the Senate’s bill; and that’s okay. The very fact that there is positive movement on the House side towards various pieces of substantive legislation should be applauded. It would be easy to wait until after the November election even to release these principles. House Speaker John Boehner’s hiring of Arizonan Becky Tallent, an alumnus of the staffs of former Rep. Jim Kolbe and Sen. John McCain and a veteran of the immigration battles of the past is another sign that we’re on the precipice of something very good.

The economic benefits to be had from an immigration overhaul are too big to ignore, especially in a soft economy that could use a shot of adrenaline. Using last year’s Senate bill as a baseline, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform could reduce federal budget deficits by nearly $200 billion.

Leading the Republicans’ list is border security. This is critically important to Arizona, not only because border states like ours bear an outsized burden for lax border enforcement, but also because our state is economically tied to our ability to process legitimate trade and travel through well-staffed border ports of entry. As we celebrate the 20th year of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we should embrace immigration reform as means to improving our legal arteries for trade.

The document also speaks of the importance of modern employment verification and workplace enforcement systems. Arizona has proven through the widespread use of E-Verify that this technology can be adopted by employers in a thoughtful way that is not overly burdensome to the hiring process.

American business should be encouraged by the Republican’s effort to offer reforms to the legal immigration system. The principles speak to the need of an immigration system driven by economic needs, one that welcomes talented individuals trained at U.S. universities and that establishes a workable, realistic guest worker program.

For the Dreamers, those who were brought to this country by their parents as children and know no other home, the principles state that legal residence and citizenship should be made a reality.

For those living here now in an undocumented status, the principles state that individuals who meet certain eligibility requirements could be able to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” But the document also says certain unspecified enforcement triggers must be met.

This outline of principles establishes clear guideposts for crafting legislation that members of both parties can support. I’ve been saying for years now that real immigration reform was imminent, but I believe we’ve now taken a step closer to reform than we’ve ever gotten before to actually sending a bill to the president’s desk. 

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