Friday, May 18, 2007

initial immigration compromise reached

The NY Times reports on the new immigration bill coming out of committee in the Senate:

Senate negotiators from both parties announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants while also toughening border security.

If the bill becomes law, it would result in the biggest changes in immigration law and policy in more than 20 years. That would provide President Bush with a political lift and a tangible accomplishment for his second term. It would also be a legislative achievement for the new Democratic leaders in Congress, though they said they would seek changes in the measure.

At the heart of the bill is a significant political trade-off. Democrats got a legalization program, which they have sought for many years. Republicans got a new “merit-based system of immigration,” intended to make the United States more competitive in a global economy.

But the politics of the deal are precarious. Democrats are already trying to tamp down concerns of Hispanic groups, who fear that the bill would make it more difficult for immigrants to bring relatives from abroad. At the same time, Republican negotiators face blistering criticism from some conservatives, who say the bill would grant a virtual amnesty to people who had broken the law.

Ezra Klein uses his reporting chops and talks to people about the bill. If he'd asked me, I'd have said the same thing:
The folks I talked to believe this is the year. Two years from now isn't an option. The particular political circumstances we're in are nearly unique: Bush has nothing left to lose but his involvement still provides cover for Republicans, Democrats can get an immigration bill without full ownership over it, the space is open for the subject because the President won't allow action on other liberal priorities and the Congress won't countenance any conservative agenda items, and so on. You have the RNC defending a bill that, were it offered under a Democratic president, they'd be tearing apart. Meanwhile, this just won't be a priority for the next president: President Democrat will want to do health care, not amnesty, and President Republican will want to get reelected someday. So this is the shot.

But the bill is already getting flak from left and right. This will be a bitter battle, and an important one. The bill is far from perfect, but on balance, I think immigrant advocates should take it. Anti-immigrant advocates should take it too, for that matter. Out-of-status immigrants aren't going anywhere and the problems of the current system won't solve themselves. The longer restrictionists wait, the worse it will be for them as immigrants naturalize in record numbers, Democrats take over the country, and the business community gets increasingly worried.

However, paradoxically, just because this is the best shot restrictionists are likely to get (and they are almost certain to reject this bill, as they would any bill that ever had a chance of passing) doesn't mean immigrant advocates should stall for time. In the meantime, immigrants will suffer and the next bill may not be an improvement and might not come for quite some time.

Of course, a lot depends on the result of the upcoming negotiations.

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