Here’s the important thing to remember as the House of Representatives takes up immigration reform: the bill passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. How often does that happen?
Give credit where it is due. Thanks to the efforts of people like New York’s Chuck Schumer, the Senate bill is a classic example of collaboration and compromise. The deal-cutting and backroom negotiations probably weren’t pretty, but the result is a bill that addresses the key issue of border security while establishing a rigorous path to citizenship.
So now it’s on to the House, where the bill faces a cloudy future. Members of the tea party caucus in the Republican majority have used the dreaded ‘A’ word—amnesty—to describe the formula that would allow illegal immigrants to regularize their status over the course of 13 years. In the eyes of some critics, any legislation that allows a path to citizenship simply rewards those who broke the law when they crossed the border. And that, in their view, is intolerable.
New York, the historic gateway to a new world and a new life for tens of millions of immigrants, has an obligation to stand behind the Senate bill. Two downstate Republicans, Peter King of Nassau County and Michael Grimm of Staten Island, represent a region that has grown and prospered thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of immigrants. Not only should they support the Senate bill, they should be working the back rooms and twisting arms to help line up votes in its favor.
That won’t be easy. While some Republicans and conservative commentators have come out in support of the Senate bill, momentum may be shifting in favor of its opponents. Two respected conservative commentators, Rich Lowry and William Kristol, published an essay the other day urging House Republicans to spike the bill and then revisit reform in 2015 if Republicans gain seats in the House and Senate in the 2014 off-year elections.
That’s a risky strategy for House Republicans. They’ll bear responsibility for blocking a bill that had significant Republican support in the Senate, and if the party doesn’t gain power in the 2014 elections, they’ll be sitting ducks in 2016.
The Senate bill is not perfect—those who would wait for a perfect piece of legislation must be blessed with extraordinary patience. But the moment for reform is here. New York and the nation as a whole will benefit if the House declines to stand in the way of more-robust border security and a path to citizenship for the 11 million residents who came here for a better life.