The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to send the bipartisan immigration bill — more formally known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernizing Act — to the full Senate. The 800-plus page bill is by far the most ambitious attempt to overhaul the nation’s immigration system in nearly three decades. The version that will reach the floor is, not surprisingly, imperfect, but the fact that it emerged from committee at all, and largely intact, is a testament to both political parties’ willingness to compromise — a characteristic that has been in short supply in Washington for a long time.
It is a grave disappointment, of course, that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was pressured to withdraw his amendment that would have allowed U.S. citizens to apply for green cards for their same-sex partners. But as Leahy himself acknowledged, that was the price of moving the measure to the floor, so he capitulated with “a heavy heart.”
The legislation still faces plenty of hurdles. Some Republicans will argue, as they did Wednesday during a House hearing on the bill, that it doesn’t go far enough on border and internal enforcement. Others, such as Chris Crane, the head of a union that represents deportation officers, will stoke fears that immigration reform will create some kind of a public safety crisis.
Such arguments, however, are disingenuous. The bill actually sets aside more than $4 billion for drones and other technology to secure the border. And it strengthens internal enforcement by requiring employers to use a system that verifies the immigration status of new hires. More than 35 state attorneys general have publicly come out in support of the measure because they believe it will keep communities safer, not put them in greater danger.
All in all, congressional negotiators from both parties have done a remarkable job of crafting a smart and humane bill that replaces an outdated and dysfunctional visa system with one that looks toward the future economic needs of the United States. It’s a bill that encourages the best and brightest minds to come to this country while protecting the interests of American workers. And it’s a bill that recognizes that an estimated 11 million immigrants are living in the country illegally and have put down roots here and aren’t going to disappear.
The Senate bill offers lawmakers an opportunity do to what they were elected to do. We hope they will be courageous enough to stand up to the anti-reform crowd — including those in the Republican-controlled House — who seek to defeat this landmark legislation.