The immigration bill that the United States Senate approved Thursday is far from perfect. It mandates over-the-top investments in border security, including 20,000 more border patrol agents, 700 miles of additional fencing on our border with Mexico and deployment of an expensive array of high-tech gadgetry at a cost of $40 billion over the next decade.
Also, the path to citizenship the bill offers to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States takes too long and is too onerous. Applicants must pass a background check, pay a fine, fees and any back taxes owed and still wait 13 years.
Even so, as flawed as it is the bill represents a step forward, a difficult bipartisan compromise necessary to begin the urgently needed overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Most important, the bill brings millions of immigrants, many of whom were brought to this country as children and know no other country, out of the shadows.
It expands the number of high-skilled workers who can live and work here and contribute to the nation's economy. It creates a special visa program to expand the flow of much-needed agricultural workers. While it limits immigration opportunities for adult siblings, it expands and facilitates most other kinds of family reunification efforts.
Unfortunately, as immigration reform supporters celebrated the hard-fought win in the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner has declared the Senate bill essentially dead on arrival in his chamber. "The House," he said, "is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes."
Hard-core conservatives, including Rep. Tom McClintock of California, have threatened to depose Boehner if he dares bring an immigration measure to a vote on the House floor that lacks majority Republican support.
Sadly, that threatens to leave the fate of immigration reform in the hands of an irrational clutch of reactionary Republicans who have expressed hostility to any immigration measure that offers a path to citizenship for those in this country illegally. That path, which these hard-liners dismiss contemptuously as "amnesty," is purchased at a very high price indeed. It is the heart of the bill. Without it, immigration reform is meaningless. Any bill without a path to citizenship condemns the nation to a cruel and unacceptable status quo.
As flawed as it is, the Senate bill reaffirms the nation's proud immigrant heritage. It offers hope to millions of new immigrants, those here now and those yet to come. All Americans, no matter when or how their ancestors reached our shores, should embrace it and urge the House to give it fair consideration.