If President Obama wants a bipartisan immigration reform this year, the policy and political path is being laid out for him. That’s the meaning of Monday’s statement of reform principles from a bipartisan group of eight Senators across the political spectrum.
The agreement is a breakthrough because it includes compromises from both Republicans and Democrats that, at least in principle, address the main obstacles that have killed reform in the past. The most politically potent of those issues is what to do about the 11 million illegals currently in the U.S. But more important for the country’s future is admitting more immigrants, both high- and low-skilled, and creating a process that lets them enter and leave legally as economic opportunities ebb and flow. This will be the action to watch.
Critics on the right assail the last big immigration reform, in 1986, and they have a point. That reform offered citizenship to current illegal immigrants but it failed to set up a process for future legal immigration to meet the needs of fast-moving labor markets. Thus it created an incentive for foreigners to arrive illegally and never leave lest they never be able to return to the U.S. if they did go home. Avoiding that mistake should be one of the main goals of this or any other immigration reform.