Immigration reform requires compromise

Immigration reform has been declared dead so many times that it’s almost dangerous to write about having hope for it, for fear of having your sanity called into question.

But, it’s too important an issue for the future of our nation not to recognize when progress is made, even if others would rather try to bury that progress under an avalanche of pessimism.

That’s why it’s worth noting that Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican Leadership team have courageously released a set of principles on immigration reform. Turning those principles into actual legislation, however, is going to take more political courage and determination from the leaders of both parties in both houses, because the no-compromise crowds on both the right and left are determined to prevent immigration reform from becoming law.

The broad outlines of an immigration reform deal have been clear for years. Republicans want better border security and more workplace enforcement. Both parties want a better system for guest workers.  And Democrats want a path to citizenship for those who are already here.  Those were the major elements of the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate last year.

The status of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here is, and always has been, the major sticking point.  Conservatives have always opposed “amnesty” in any form, particularly an expedited path to full citizenship, such as what was included in the Senate bill.  For many liberal immigrant groups, eventual citizenship is a deal breaker issue.

In an attempt to break the impasse, the House Republican principles propose a path to legality for those already here, but no special route to citizenship.

For now, Democrats and liberal groups are not pushing back too hard against the House Republican principles.  The prevailing sentiment is that Boehner needs breathing room to get the issue moving among his troops. But those groups are also threatening that at some point they will fight for citizenship, not just legality.

For now, the real problem lies with the Tea Party wing of the GOP which remains adamantly opposed to anything other than deportation – by force, or by attrition – of those already here, no matter how unrealistic and cruel that is. The House Republican principles have been relentlessly attacked by conservative groups and talk radio.

Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan have fought back, repeatedly saying they are not proposing amnesty, and emphasizing the differences between their principles and the bill that passed the Senate.

To get this done, Boehner needs to stay the course, and President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will eventually need to persuade their party to accept the GOP compromise on legality, not citizenship, because if the Democrats insist on a special path to full citizenship the whole deal will fall apart.  Democrats and immigrant groups should heed the words in the Washington Compact – a collaborative statement (which I signed) of immigration principles supported by Washington’s business, faith, and law enforcement communities, as well as Republicans and Democrats – that calls for “a fair path to legal status,” and does not insist on citizenship.

America needs immigration reform.  Every study shows that fixing our broken immigration system will grow the economy and create jobs. Finally achieving real border security will make us safer.

And no American should be comfortable with the human costs of families broken up by deportations, or immigrants dying in the Arizona desert.  None of these problems will be solved unless they are all solved together. Republicans will never pass legalization without greater border security; Democrats will never agree to border security without legalization.

We learned in Olympia this year that compromise on immigration issues is possible, as Republicans in the State Senate passed the REAL HOPE Act, which put actual dollars into implementing the DREAM Act which had passed the State House, making undocumented immigrant students eligible for college financial aid.

The far left and the far right don’t want to solve problems.  To both, compromise is a dirty word.  Immigration reform this year would be smarter government.  To get that done, leaders from the sensible center need to work together, no matter how loud the voices get on both fringes.

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Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Former State Representative, County Councilman, and GOP State Chairman. Now working as a Public Affairs Consultant, Senior Advisor to SPI Randy Dorn, and Political Commentator on KING and KCTS TV and Crosscut.com