It’s good that Republicans are finally willing to move forward on immigration reform, pledging to push through legislation by summer that would provide a possible path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people now in this country illegally.
While the critical details must be worked out among President Obama, the Senate and the House, just the fact that Republicans are willing to talk about legal status for illegal immigrants is a breakthrough.
Providing such a path for those immigrants is the right thing to do. One of those providing leadership on this issue, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., acknowledged the failure of previous bipartisan efforts and proposals, but says this will be the year “… Congress finally gets it done.”
The signs point in that direction, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., acknowledging his party’s motivation for its change in attitude: “Elections. Elections.” The Republican Party has lost the support of Hispanics – Obama received 71 percent of the Latino vote in November. Hispanics will continue to favor Democrats as long as Republicans continue to block progress on the issue.
Immigration reform shouldn’t come at the expense of border control, and the Senate proposal would increase border security. It would allow more temporary workers to stay and crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. That’s a sketchy framework, but it’s a start. Obama and members of the House are working on their own proposals, so for once the political system seems to be working.
Achieving immigration reform won’t be easy. The pushback, particularly over the path to citizenship, has already begun. But the obvious fact is that there are 11 million immigrants here illegally, and there is no way to send them back. Dealing with those immigrants in a way that strengthens the nation should be the goal.
Efforts at the federal level dovetail with the New York State DREAM Act, introduced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Francisco Moya of Queens and Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah J. Glick.
The bill seems to have gained traction with fellow Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Republicans who share control of the State Senate.
The state DREAM Act would allow children of undocumented residents to qualify for the state Tuition Assistance Program and create a private state-regulated scholarship fund to promote higher education among immigrants. Silver’s proposal projects the costs at about $20 million per year, though critics say spending would be much higher.
The TAP proposal would build on current law that since 2002 has allowed illegal immigrant students in New York to pay the lower, in-state tuition at public colleges. Other states already offer financial aid to children of illegal immigrants, including Texas, New Mexico and California.
Giving those students an opportunity to earn a college degree should help the state’s economy as those young adults earn more and pay higher taxes.
There are 11 million illegal immigrants already making lives for themselves in the United States. Maintaining barriers that keep them from becoming even more productive citizens is detrimental to us all.