It’s amazing how attitudes can change following a disastrous election. That likely explains the shift in thinking among Republicans when it comes to immigration reform.
Just a few years ago, conservatives were determined to keep illegal immigrants out of the country – at all costs. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about illegal aliens “self-deporting.” Then came the scathing election results, with Barack Obama winning largely because of his overwhelming support from Latino voters. Suddenly there was grudging acceptance of immigration reform by some conservative talk show hosts and politicians who had railed against any compromise.
Now, the bipartisan group of senators who unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform proposal have their work cut out trying to get more Republicans on board. The proposal has won praise from upstate New York farmers and immigration advocates.
The “Gang of Eight” includes Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz. A tea party favorite, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is all-in politically on this one. For him and other Republicans, it’s a risk worth taking.
The 844-page bill is on a six-week schedule toward passage, supporters hope, by early June. Nearly everyone will find things to like and dislike in the bill, but most importantly it will end decades of inaction by creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally. Before that happens, they would have to complete a lengthy set of requirements, including paying $2,000 in fines, learning English and undergoing background checks.
There is a new program designed to encourage migrant farm workers to come to this country legally. And there is the broader effort to allow high-skilled workers from overseas to work in this country. The bill also includes measures to better secure our borders.
The legislation will be a boost to New York farmers, who rely on migrant workers for low-cost seasonal labor. Farmers have struggled to find enough workers because many of them scatter at the first inkling that their citizenship is being questioned. Current law allows migrant farm workers to be in the United States for nine months at a time; the new bill would allow them to stay for up to three years.
Illegal immigrants who are on the long path toward citizenship will not be able to access the social safety net that includes the Affordable Care Act or most welfare benefits.
Critics of the bill view it as amnesty for people who entered this country illegally, but they should instead see that those 11 million people cannot be deported. They are part of our society and deserve a chance to become legal, taxpaying citizens of this country.