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Details, politics bedevil immigration reform

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight on passing comprehensive immigration reform, but as always the details bedevil passage.

Our View

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week threw its weight in support of immigration reform.

“We’re determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted,” Chamber President Tom Donohue said during his annual “State of American Business” address Jan. 8.

What reforms the chamber endorses were left to the imaginations of audience members, as the prepared text of Donohue’s speech offers nothing beyond that quote.

The chamber’s website touts the need for “commonsense” reforms. Who can’t agree with that?

The devil resides in the details of any serious reform proposal, not in the broad strokes. The definition of words such as “commonsense” and “fair” are most troublesome.

It seems everyone in or around Washington is talking about reform.

President Obama has promised to make immigration reform a top priority in 2014, when not focusing on creating jobs, improving education, energy, protecting the environment, reducing inequality or any of the other big issues he’s promised to make a priority.

Senate Democrats with a few Republican allies last year passed a comprehensive bill. It would:

• Create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

• Reform the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

• Create an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants in the future, requiring prospective workers to verify legal status and identity through a non-forgeable electronic system.

• Allow more low-skill workers into the country and allow employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen, and establishing an agricultural worker program.

These are things we’ve generally supported before. We are not particular that they be rolled up into one bill, which gets closer to the position of House Republicans.

More and more members of the GOP are warming up to immigration reform, though they are leery of a large, comprehensive bill. Many favor, at least in broad terms, bits and pieces of the Senate’s bill. For the majority, however, providing anything more than legal residency for carefully vetted illegal immigrants is a non-starter.

House Speaker John Boehner said last week that House Republicans will release a set of working principles for their measures later this month.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Boehner favors a series of narrower bills that would fast-track legalization for undocumented farm laborers, offer residency for those brought into the country illegally as children and increase the number of visas available for immigrants with technical skills.

Absent from these measures is a wholesale pathway to citizenship for the majority of the 12 million, or “amnesty” that is anathema to the conservative wing.

These limited bills suit our purposes as well as the Senate’s comprehensive package. It seems unlikely, however, that they go far enough for Democrats who are actively courting the Hispanic vote.

We’ve been here before. Even with so many people talking about reform, we have our doubts much will happen in the run up to this fall’s midterm election.



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