The ink had barely dried on the agreement to reopen the federal government when President Barack Obama announced a rather lofty year-end goal: to craft a comprehensive budget solution and to fix the country’s “broken” immigration system. While both are issues that should be relatively politics-free, the former has proven to be far from nonpartisan – or even bipartisan – in either discussion or solutions. Immigration reform has even less reason to be politically infused, and while Obama and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, are right to call for expeditious action, the chances of it occurring seem somewhat dim given Washington’s current atmosphere.
That should not stop Obama, Bennet and his cohort on the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who crafted a comprehensive immigration reform package from urging progress on it. And Bennet is pushing the U.S. House of Representatives to take up legislation that mirrors the bill approved by the Senate in June. He believes a compromise is possible by year-end; it should be.
Whether it is or not is another question, but, in the meantime, the conversation is returning to the stage from the wings. The Senate measure is a workable starting point, given the range of issues and concerns it addresses. It would allow undocumented residents a path to citizenship through a lengthy process including fines, passing background checks and learning English. It would also step up border patrol significantly with more agents, fencing and even drone surveillance. The bill creates a guest-worker program for low-skilled laborers, and calls for an increase in the program that aims to draw highly skilled workers to the United States. Each of these provisions addresses a real and vexing challenge to the existing immigration system and none is a quick fix. The House should take up its end of the discussion in earnest.
Bennet is correct in his assessment that immigration reform is not technically a partisan issue, as he told the Inter American Press Association on Sunday in Denver. But neither should be a continuing resolution to provide funding to keep the federal government open. His language about nonpartisanship aside, Bennet clearly sees where the next steps are – and where pressure must be applied. “The House of Representatives, if they can hear the voices of people who are rational on this issue, can improve this bill,” Bennet told the press group. “What we can’t do is not allow the House not to act. It’s just too important.”
Therein lies the challenge, to be sure. The need to address immigration has been urgent for many years now and it has not waned in its importance. In placing the issue on the short-term agenda, Obama and Bennet deftly remind Americans of the critical work that needs to be done in Washington, D.C., now that the latest round of obstructionism has abated. What an opportunity for all parties to claim a victory – for themselves and for well-crafted answers to national challenges.