The once illusive and ambitious ideal that was Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”) has been steadily making its way toward reality. Beginning with the bi-partisan framework recently introduced by the “Gang of Eight,” CIR is becoming more and more tangible. On February 13, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on immigration reform. Among the witnesses before the Committee were Department of Homeland (“DHS”) Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder of Define American, Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies of the Center for Immigration Studies, Chris Crane, President of the National ICE Council #118, and Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Although still in the very beginning stages, there were some key highlights from the hearing that are good indicators of the direction in which CIR is headed.
Of these highlights, two of the most contentious topics, the so-called “path to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. and border security were addressed. The takeaway from this discussion was that it is not possible, nor is it desirable, to attempt to remove 11 million people from the U.S. Nevertheless, the word “amnesty” is still taboo, as the proposed reform will necessarily require immigrants to meet certain conditions before they are able to earn a path to citizenship. Border security goes hand-in-hand with the path to citizenship. Secretary Napolitano emphasized that a path to citizenship would allow DHS to better focus its resources on real security threats. Trying to make our borders 100% impermeable is simply unrealistic, and DHS will be more successful if able to focus more resources on the inside—such as through reducing incentives to illegal immigration through higher employer sanctions and effective work verification.
Other highlights from the hearing include making family reunification and entrepreneurship top priorities. Additionally, and possibly most importantly, the hearing heralded a discussion on the importance of comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, reform, as well as reframing the immigration debate as an “opportunity” rather than a “problem.” This change in outlook and attitude, although simple, is sure to be a significant step in the right direction.