The U.S. Senate is gearing up to vote by July 4 on an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, and the bill’s fate hinges on the outcome of what will be weeks of efforts to alter or derail it before the vote. This bipartisan legislation has survived one such slice-and-dice effort intact, and Senate leaders need to maintain the bill’s central promise: a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million people in the country illegally.
The effort to turn millions of immigrants into taxpaying Americans is not only morally imperative but economically prudent. Studies show that adding millions of legal workers would be a net gain for the nation’s finances. The alternatives – attempting to deport them or leaving them to subsist in the shadows – are not feasible.
Even in the more receptive Senate, the measure will prompt a mighty struggle. It will need 60 votes to get past filibuster rules. In the House, resistance will be even more formidable.
One of the key sponsors, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., says that for the bill to have any chance of becoming law, provisions for tighter border security must be enhanced. He and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have also proposed a series of amendments that, among other things, would prevent immigrants who attain legal status from receiving subsidized health care for five years and impose stricter prohibitions on non-citizens receiving welfare payments. These amendments are spurious, but they could help the bill win necessary conservative support.
Many other amendments will be proposed, and some will be “poison pills” designed to rupture the delicate bipartisan coalition. Changes on the Senate floor must be allowed only if they strengthen the coalition. On the issue of border control especially, anti-reform Republicans cannot be permitted to make a path to citizenship contingent on security requirements so stringent that they make citizenship unattainable in practical terms.
As the bill was being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it underwent votes on more than 250 amendments. The coalition held together to bat away the worst ones, while allowing others that improved the bill or, at the least, did nothing to worsen it. Among the additions: guarantees that immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children can receive federal college loans, and requirements that immigration enforcement officials attempt to track down people in the country on expired visas.
Some influential Republican lawmakers wrongly consider a path to citizenship “amnesty,” but the bill makes it tolerable to skeptics by bundling that provision with tighter border security and greater controls to prevent undocumented workers from being hired. As long as these stay in a smart balance, the bill has a chance of making the nation’s immigration laws more humane and sensible, something that every American should want.
for The Post Editorial Board