It is a landmark, a great moment for the nation, insist supporters of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill passed Thursday. It is the essence of compromise to solve a vexing national problem. It is historic legislation.
No, it is dead legislation, say House Republicans, with varying degrees of contempt and scorn. The Senate’s comprehensive bill will not be allowed to come to a vote in the House, they insist. To think so is “idiotic,” Rep. Devin Nunes of California told the National Journal.
Reports indicate that even with an amendment pumping more billions into border security and fortifications, the Senate bill is insufficiently punitive to satisfy the House majority. It is not even close. The nation must be hermetically sealed and proven impenetrable beyond any doubt, before pulling a “trigger” that will make it somewhat possible for the 11 million or more illegal aliens already working in the United States to emerge from the shadows and gain legal residency of some kind. That is reported to be the minimum requirement.
Before the border army marches south, the House would do well to set its goals and decide how to achieve them. If the goal is to punish immigrants and pose among the hardliners, then take the stage. If the goal is to reduce future illegal immigration, then look to the Senate bill for what might work.
It doesn’t start with a border fence and army. That alone won’t do it. It should start with a program that allows immigrant workers to reach the jobs where they are needed and wanted, legally. As many have sensibly noted, without devising a means for legal immigration, there is not enough razor wire in the world to stop illegal immigration. “The only way we are going to prevent illegal immigration in the future is if we have a way for workers to get here legally,” said Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA in a conversation Thursday. “The problem is we haven’t had workable programs.”
The Senate bill has them. It scraps the tedious H2A program. Instead, agricultural guest workers will be able to accept an “at-will” option, a three-year visa that lets them work for authorized agricultural employers, who must meet standards for wages and housing. Or, they can enter on a “contract-based” option, to perform specific work for a specific employer. In addition, workers already in the country can obtain a Blue Card, legal status, if they continue working in agriculture. After five years’ work, paying fines and taxes, Blue Card workers can be eligible for permanent residency. The Department of Agriculture will administer the program. It has been endorsed by both by the agricultural industry, employers and farmworkers’ unions.
The Senate bill contains another guest worker provision allowing a limited number of low-skilled workers to enter, for industries like construction. It is too small, but a start nonetheless, said Jacoby.
The Senate bill also provides for eventual nationwide adoption of the E-Verify system, so all new hires will be checked for their eligibility to work in the United States.
The House will take up these issues in pieces, its leaders indicate — guest workers, border security, E-Verify, legalization of millions — one bill at a time. It is possible some good might come from this approach, but the political challenges will multiply, bill by bill. “We’re now on to a hard fight in the House,” said Jacoby. “There’s no guarantee there.” That does not detract from the significance of the Senate vote Thursday. “The Senate did about as good a job as they could do,” she said.
The Senate bill, with its faults, would be good for North Central Washington. It would give our largest industry a chance to move ahead with a legal workforce it desperately needs. It would give our hardworking neighbors a chance to stay among us, legally. Those would be a great accomplishments, landmarks, historic. House leaders, please take note.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.