Path Grows Clearer – Comprehensive migrant reform

EDITORIAL – January 30, 2013
The Republic | 

The door has opened on a vast expanse of com­mon ground.

Eight powerful senators and the president are ready to work on comprehensive im­migration reform. They agree more than they disagree.

This is good news for Ari­zona and the nation.

Yes, there are key differ­ences that will test the negoti­ating skills of all those in­volved. And, yes, finding a way through the House re­mains a challenge.

But if politicians who played keep-away with this issue for so long can get this far, then we agree with the president: “Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.”

Those are goals to keep in mind: Comprehensive im­migration reform will be good for the economy and our na­tion’s future. The status quo is not productive.

The bipartisan group of senators and the president both recognize that 11 million undocumented people in our country must be invited to come out of the shadows. The differences are about how. Both sides want background checks, penalties and other reasonable requirements.

Under the senators’ plan, those here without proper immigration documents could apply only for provisional legal status. Any move toward permanent residency and citizenship would have to wait until enforcement bench­marks were reached.

President Barack Obama wants a clear path to citi­zenship outlined from the start. This would be a tough sell among congressional Republicans, some of whom dismiss any effort to legalize this population as “amnesty.”

Arizona’s Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, one of the group of eight, issued a press release after Obama spoke to point out that the Senate framework made citizenship “contingent on measurable increases in border security” in part “to ensure that a reform package can actually move through Congress.”

In order to ensure fairness, “measurable increases” have to be truly measurable and clearly defined from the start. No moving goal posts. And enhanced border security has to take into account the huge investment already made at the border.

Obama also emphasized his support for enhanced border security, so these differences may not be insurmountable.

The president agrees with the senators on the need for a national system to allow em­ployers to efficiently and accurately verify employ­ment status, as well as ramped-up penalties for em­ployers who hire the undocu­mented. These are criticallyimportant elements. But the lack of an easy employee-verification system isn’t the only reason employ­ers hire the undocumented — and this is where Obama’s speech fell short.

The nation needs migrant labor. The shortage of Amer­ican workers willing to do agriculture work is particular­ly acute, but it is not the only industry that needs low­skilled migrant labor. As long as that need remains, illegal immigration will continue. It’s called supply and demand.

Yet Obama made no men­tion of an expanded guest­worker program. This omis­sion might please his sup­porters in organized labor, but it does not reflect reality.

Immigration reform needs to create a legal pipeline for workers at the high and low end of the wage scale. Oba­ma’s references solely to col­lege whiz kids and entrepre­neurs ignored a huge work­force need.

So, yes, there are patches of quicksand that represent core philosophical differ­ences. But they are not in­escapable traps.

The twin presentations on immigration reform this week are less about differences than they are about a broad recognition that we can fix this and we need to fix this.

There is plenty of common ground.

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