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Published: 4/17/2013

The system works (or not)

The “Gang of Eight” U.S. senators has finally filed its immigration reform bill, a plan built on compromise. It will be landmark legislation — if it passes.

Crafted by four Democratic and four Republican senators who worked closely and privately on the legislation for months, the bill addresses border security, immigrant visas, domestic enforcement, and workplace visas.

The key component is a 13-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants who are in this country illegally. The measure includes new visa programs for high- and low-skill workers.

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The comprehensive plan has the endorsement of President Obama, who says he will support it rather than send his own bill to Congress. It is widely considered a breakthrough in constructive bipartisanship — in contrast to the evident failure Wednesday of gun-control legislation before the Senate.

Many people are saying the immigration reform measure shows that Washington can function legislatively, and do the people’s work as well as lobbyists’. This plan, they say, demonstrates that the system works when lawmakers get together and apply themselves.

If this bill passes, that will be true. But there was a comprehensive plan in 2007 too, and that bill was killed by the delaying tactics of immigration reform opponents. Don’t underestimate the forces of reaction and obstruction — to any forward movement on any major problem — in Congress.

Opponents are engaging in stalling tactics and misleading rhetoric, such as phony charges that the measure calls for “amnesty” and demands for “border security” that would be impossible to achieve. And the House has largely been AWOL from the reform process, although there is a bipartisan working group on immigration in that body.

But Congress has dithered on immigration reform for almost 20 years, so the Senate bill is a big step forward. Congress has been increasingly dysfunctional for those same 20 years — with the dysfunction deepening in the past four years — so the mere existence of the Gang of Eight is reason for hope.

The substance of the senators’ immigration plan is especially encouraging. But our legislative system is biased toward minority rights and stasis, so the forces of “no” have won a lot of victories, especially of late.

Americans must hope that this time, positive action and hard work will win. Only tough-minded lawmakers and vigilant citizens can keep hope, and this important legislation, alive.



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