The first sign that a long elusive compromise on immigration reform could finally be coming was President Obama’s cautious mention of immigration in his State of the Union speech last week.
Rather than shaming Republicans, or — as he has so far — demanding “comprehensive” reform, Obama only briefly mentioned immigration as part of his overall economic message:
“If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system.”
Obama steered far clear of holding to the past Democratic line that immigration reform must come with a “path to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.
A couple of days later, House Republicans suggested they were willing to approach immigration legislation that includes “legal status” for the undocumented. And they indicated that developing some track toward citizenship is not out of the question.
The new spirit of compromise should be taken advantage of quickly.
Both sides can certainly come to agreement on some major areas of immigration reform, including a robust guest-worker program that would allow American businesses to gain access to skilled and unskilled workers while keeping those workers inside the law, and developing sanctions against employers who don’t do their due diligence to prevent hiring undocumented workers.
Both sides also appear willing to look for a solution that would provide citizenship to children who were brought to the country by their parents without documentation. Coming to agreement on how to provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented who are already here will be more difficult.
But even on that contentious issue, there seems room for compromise.
That’s because Republicans, who have been reluctant to “reward” citizenship to those who came here illegally, are also generally in favor of stronger border security measures than many Democrats seek.
Both parties know that continuing to ignore our broken immigration system is not in the country’s best interest and not in their best interest as they head toward fall elections.
With hints of compromise coming from both sides, now is the time to get down to work and pass an immigration bill, even if it isn’t “comprehensive” or may not be what each side hopes for.