Just days before tens of thousands descend on Washington, D.C. to demand immigration reform President Barack Obama pledged to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform this year.
The president’s commitment to “do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year” immediately followed a statement by Senate immigration reform leaders Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in which they urgently called for comprehensive immigration reform and revealed their legislative framework. Schumer and Graham presented their proposal today in the Washington Post.
The president added that the “critical next step will be to translate (the Schumer-Graham) framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity."
We applaud the president’s commitment and the senators’ bold step forward. As the senators roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of writing a bill, we urge both parties to work together to produce a bipartisan measure that will be tough, fair, and practical and that will strengthen our economy.
Schumer, chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, and Graham, a long-time advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, correctly note that a border enforcement-only strategy is not enough to get control of the broken immigration system. As they wrote in today’s Washington Post, “developing a rational legal immigration system is essential to ensuring America’s future economic prosperity.”
Schumer and Graham’s “rational legal immigration system” refers to a system that meets the nation’s economic needs for low-skilled and high-skilled workers. They back reforms that enforce the border and the interior so that unscrupulous employers do not unfairly depress the wage scale, exploit workers, and cheat on tax payments. And they favor a bill that requires the current undocumented immigrants to register, pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and earn their place in line for lawful presence in the United States.
We pause at the senators’ proposal for a biometric Social Security card. Immigration reform should phase in the universal implementation of a secure electronic employment verification system, but it must meet accuracy and privacy benchmarks, as well as other important safeguards first. And while we recognize that an opinion piece cannot address all issues, we are concerned that family reunification is not directly referenced in the Schumer-Graham framework. Reform efforts will stumble and likely fail without a mechanism to ensure that close family members are swiftly reunited and the bulging visa backlog is reduced.
Comprehensive immigration reform is needed. It will add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. Increased tax revenues from comprehensive immigration reform would generate an additional $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion over three years.
It also will restore our nation’s great standing as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. As the senators state, “The American people deserve more than empty rhetoric and impractical calls for mass deportation.”
The senators’ commentary also demonstrates that this is a bipartisan issue with a bipartisan solution—a sharp contrast to other partisan-plagued battles. The push to act on comprehensive immigration reform is coming from stalwart conservatives such as former Republican House Majority Leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, both of Texas, and liberal leaders such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who has already introduced a House immigration reform measure with dozens of co-sponsors.
President Obama firmly restated his commitment to moving forward with comprehensive immigration reforms this year, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are discussing how to proceed and grow support for the bill.
CAP looks forward to good legislation that allows a tough but fair program for undocumented immigrants to earn legal status, creates a flexible immigration system for the good of the economy and family reunification, cracks down on bad employers who cheat the system, and serves our national interests and values.
Sens. Schumer and Graham have issued the invitation for a smart debate on a tough issue, and now it’s up to leaders of both parties to answer their call and deliver a solution.