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Falling walls?
Can immigration reform be passed?

Date published: 2/7/2013

THEY'RE TALKING in Washington this week about immigration reform. That's the big news--that they're talking. And almost a common language.

For the first time since 2007, Democrats, Republicans, business, labor, Congress, and the White House are gathering in groups to discuss the immigration issues that have long divided them. The breakthrough began when a group of four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate began working out their differences. The sticking point for Republicans has always been "amnesty"--citizenship for those who have come here illegally. Denounced by the Fox News/talk-radio axis, that's what killed George W. Bush's immigration-reform plan in 2007. However, having seen the handwriting on the wall in November (it was written in Spanish and signed by seven of 10 voting Hispanics), Republicans--at least those who aren't certifiably loco--are softening their position.

The senators have come up with a four-point plan:

A path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in this country, contingent on securing the borders

A green-card program for people with advanced degrees

A methodology for employers to verify citizenship

A guest-worker program for unskilled laborers.

President Obama's plan is similar, but it doesn't include the provision that the borders must be secured (and certified as such by border-state governors) before the path to citizenship is activated. Simultaneity is a third possibility. Border security is crucial, because if the borders remain sieves, the immigration crisis is sure to revisit us a few years down the road.

Despite this progress, there's much work--and compromising--left to be done. But there's hope: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia--a hard-liner on immigration--called the idea of linking secure borders with a pathway to citizenship "a worthwhile idea." His committee is holding hearings this week on the subject.

The leading reformer among GOP senators is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. On the House side, one unusual supporter worth watching is Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho. A native of Puerto Rico, this Mormon Tea Party Republican has impeccable conservative bona fides and may be the one to forge a compromise between the bouncers and the moderates.

Other stakeholders also are coming to the table to work out their differences--e.g., the Chamber of Commerce (representing business owners in search of cheap labor) and the AFL-CIO (which doesn't want the labor market artificially expanded). They're now meeting at the White House.

There's simply no humane or just way to tell 11 million undocumented immigrants to go home. But preventing a future influx--a threat to state public services and a dirty deal for prospective newcomers who follow the rules--requires secure borders. Linking these key provisions could signal what Americans seek and rightly expect: progress from Washington.