As the Senate resumes its debate on the immigration bill, we face what may well be the last clear chance to pass bipartisan immigration reform for many years.
Whatever your particular focus within the bill, the text before the Senate, from a liberal perspective, is far from perfect. Those to be legalized face a long process, heavy fines, and a trip home before they can become citizens. The due process rights of those threatened with deportation or those denied the right to apply for asylum leave much to be desired. Procedures for checking whether a worker is legal could lead to many legal workers being denied employment and lead good faith employers to break the law. Guest workers have no path to citizenship and cannot remain indefinitely in the United States.
Notwithstanding all of this, I do not think the choice that liberal senators will face at the end of the week about whether or not to vote for the bill is even close. Assuming that the bill does not get worse in critical ways, and even assuming it does not get better, a vote for cloture and then for final passage is the only sensible option.
One simple matter: there will be an opportunity to improve the bill when the House takes it up and again in the conference between the two houses. Only when confronted with a final conference text does the final decision need to be made. Until that final moment, there is every reason to keep the process moving.
Moreover, it may be that the Senate bill is the best we can get. If so, there are strong arguments for going along with it.
The most important reason is that from the moment the bill is signed, most undocumented workers in the United States will be safe from deportation and able to work legally. They will be on a path to legalization and citizenship which is far too long and too costly, but nevertheless, it will permit most undocumented workers to eventually gain citizenship and bring in close family relatives. In addition, guest workers will have greater protections than undocumented workers now have.
Finally, the bill is very unlikely to get better. Indeed, if Congress does not enact immigration reform legislation this year, it is likely to be a decade or more before it is possible. In deciding what to do, we need to keep that possibility clearly in mind.