Rob Horowitz: Progress Possible On Immigration Reform
Tuesday, February 04, 2014
While the principles advanced by Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and his leadership teams fall far short of embracing all of the elements of the comprehensive legislation that passed the Senate by an overwhelming 66-32 margin early last summer, they provide sufficient constructive components to point the way towards a negotiation with the real potential to reach common ground. For example, this new House Republican outline includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children and provides legal status for a large group of other undocumented immigrants who came here as adults. As the White House indicates, if House Republicans won’t specifically preclude a more widely available path to citizenship such as the one contained in the Senate bill from being considered at a future date, a compromise that provides significant improvements in our immigration system is achievable.
A path to citizenship
Still, getting as much of the legislation that passed the Senate to be included in what ultimately passes the House will be President Obama’s goal. The Senate legislation aims to fix our broken immigration system by paving the way for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants already here to emerge from the shadows and fully participate in American life, opening up our doors more widely through expanded legal immigration targeted to attract the world’s best and brightest, and stepping up enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration. More specifically, it creates a tough, but broadly available path to citizenship. It offers sensible interim steps, permitting undocumented immigrants already here in the nation to immediately emerge from the shadows. It also expands the number of visas available for highly skilled workers while providing them with a smoother path to permanent residency, steps up enforcement, and puts substantially increased resources into border security.
Among other benefits, the adoption of most of the components of the Senate bill would be a needed shot-in-the-arm for the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that adopting the Senate bill in its current form would increase economic growth by 3.3% and reduce federal budget deficits by nearly $200 billion over the next ten years. This projected increase in economic growth and tax revenues is largely a function of the fact that the legislation would result in a significant increase in the labor force.
Some progress is better than no progress
But important incremental progress is better than no progress at all. The House Republican leadership principles do open up the possibility of an agreement that accomplishes a good part of the Senate bill’s objectives including more visas for highly skilled workers enabling the United States to recruit more of the world’s best and brightest—one of the most important keys to boosting our economic competitiveness. It is encouraging that there was an initial positive response to the set of principles among House Republicans, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal.
Hard line conservatives and Tea Party activists, however, remain strongly opposed. Staunch immigration reform opponent Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is already meeting with House opponents of reform to plan an all-out effort to stop any progress. Seizing on the current concern in the electorate about reduced career opportunities and inequality, Sessions said, “We need to move Americans off of welfare and into good-paying jobs—not replace them with lower-wage workers from abroad. Lawmakers must decide who they represent: immigration activists and powerful interests, or millions of struggling and unemployed Americans. Republicans have an opportunity to stand alone as the one party dutifully representing the legitimate interests of the American worker.”
The bumpy road ahead
As polling on this issue tells us, the arguments of Sessions and other opponents of immigration reform do not play well with the broader general electorate, but they can and do strike a responsive chord among a substantial percentage of Republican primary voters. As a result, the road ahead is likely to be bumpy. A strong and well-funded campaign by the business community and other advocates of comprehensive immigration reform is still absolutely essential for success. The good news is that with the release of this set of principles, the House Republican leadership has demonstrated that they are serious about getting something accomplished. That creates the potential for making substantial, if hard won gains, on this important issue. Few things are more important to long-term economic success and restoring the promise of the American Dream.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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