The Senate pushed contentious immigration legislation over early procedural hurdles with deceptive ease on Tuesday as President Barack Obama insisted the “moment is now” to give 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally a chance at citizenship. As a full debate and suggested amendments are made to the bill, there are several points to consider as the Senate moves closer to voting on a bill that will bring comprehensive immigration reform.
– A closed border does not facilitate a robust immigration system. Piling on additional border-enforcement measures that are grounded more in politics than effective law enforcement is a waste of resources, and ignores the fact that ending illegal immigration requires a balance of enforcement measures, new immigration programs for future labor needs, and a working E-Verify system. Texas Sen. John Cornyn has mentioned the need for stronger borders, including 90% apprehension rates at our border entries.
Also, while there is a need for secure borders, there is also a need for further streamlining and efficiently facilitating the daily cross-border flows of people, goods, and services important to the critical economic relationships between the United States and Mexico and Canada.
– Triggers must be reasonable, not designed to derail legalization. The legalization provisions of the bill should not be held hostage to border triggers that set unrealistic goals or impose overly burdensome procedures. Such triggers unnecessarily hold up the important process of bringing millions of undocumented individuals out of the shadows. Border security and legalization go hand in hand. We should not delay identifying and documenting those who reside in our country.
– Legalizing more than 11 million undocumented immigrants is an economic, social, and moral imperative. Making the process simple, straightforward, and fair means no unnecessary requirements, reasonable application procedures, realistic time frames, and strong family protections. Efforts to undermine or weaken the current proposal or to prevent these individuals from becoming lawful permanent residents, thus creating a permanent underclass with no opportunity for citizenship, would be a mistake of historic proportions.
– Immigrants must have the opportunity to fairly present their cases. A fair and just immigration system includes ensuring access to counsel for immigrants unable to represent themselves, limits on detention, and proportionate penalties for immigration violations. The temptation to continue to make immigration laws “tougher” without any moderation or respect for case-by-case decision-making must be avoided. For more than 20 years, Congress’s solution to immigration problems has been to layer on more punitive measures, ultimately creating a system that is often unbalanced and unfair. S. 744 attempts to restore some of the fundamental principles of fairness, due process, and proportional punishment that are the hallmark of the American judicial system.
– The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should have discretion to use its resources wisely. We need smart security measures that actually work, not high-priced, politically driven strategies that do not. DHS must be given the discretion to deploy resources and implement border-security policies that are based on sound, effective law-enforcement strategies and not political theater. In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, DHS must have discretion to develop strategies that are tailored to the current border challenges and employ cutting-edge technology.
– The United States needs a workable, efficient, and flexible immigration system that responds to the rapidly changing demands of a 21st century economy, technologies, and migration patterns. People live and work and innovate in ways that are different than they were 20 years ago, and yet our immigration system continues to operate on a series of static quotas and rigid requirements that ignore advances in every sector of our economy and the way we live today. We can protect the wages and working conditions of all workers without sacrificing business opportunities.
The two procedural votes had the effect of placing the bill formally before the Senate and open for amendments. Both drew more than 80 votes, reflecting a bipartisan desire to have the debate that now is expected to consume three weeks. With these points above in mind, the Senate will be debating back and forth on which principles the bill should focus on before it reaches the House for its vote. President Obama is right that in the end, our government should work to have a bill passed by the end of Summer, so the next few weeks of debate should give some idea of whether that will become a reality or not.