For the first time in years, there is bipartisan support in the U.S. to create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live there. This isn’t just the right thing to do; it will bring significant benefits to the economy, raise tax revenues and inject a spirit of entrepreneurialism, innovation and youthful energy into the country.
President Barack Obama’s decision to spend his political capital in his second term on “comprehensive, common-sense” immigration reform is a shrewd one. It could be the most important accomplishment of his polarized presidency, with an impact felt for years to come. For now, Mr. Obama is throwing his weight behind a bipartisan Senate proposal, which advocates better border security, and a guaranteed path to citizenship for those who come out from the shadows, pay a fine and back taxes, and join the back of the line of other prospective immigrants.
However, given the inflamed passions around the issue, the President is also smart to have a backup plan; if the Senate proposal fails to gain traction, he will introduce his own bill in Congress and force a quick vote. “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants,” he said in his address in Las Vegas. “Immigrants have helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo… Today our out-of-date and badly broken immigration system is holding us back.”
The Senate blueprint, released on Monday by four Republican and four Democrat senators, outlines the need to first crack down on illegal immigration, as well as on employers who knowingly hire those without work papers. Once these goals are accomplished, it sets out a path to citizenship for the undocumented, as well as a new law to award those with advanced degrees in science and technology from U.S. universities a green card.
The last overhaul to U.S. immigration laws was in 1986, and until recently, the Republican Party remained defiantly opposed. However, with the Hispanic community’s overwhelming rejection of Mitt Romney in the election, many in the party have wisely shifted their position. Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, drew the support of just 27 per cent of Latino voters, compared with Mr. Obama’s 71 per cent. As the President reminded Americans, it is easy to adopt an “us-versus-them” mentality, until you remember that “most of us used to be them.” This sensible reform is long overdue.