Is a softening of the GOP’s traditional hard line a political calculation? Quite possibly. Still, movement is movement and should not be slapped down reflexively.
That’s our context for a bill introduced by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona. Their Achieve Act offers a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants brought here as youngsters who are now pursuing higher education or military service. Their bill would stop short of providing a separate pathway to citizenship.
You will recognize some elements from the repeatedly failed DREAM Act, which did forge a citizenship path and which this newspaper supported as a reasonable step, especially as part of a broader immigration solution.
In short, this newspaper favors a comprehensive package that includes improved border security and an expanded guest-worker program that allows U.S. businesses to hire workers for low-skilled jobs that Americans have shown little interest in taking. We favor strict workplace enforcement, including mandatory use of the E-Verify program.
The U.S. must create a strong incentive to encourage the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already here to emerge from the shadows. We see that incentive as a tough but fair pathway to legalization.
The Hutchison-Kyl bill, while short of that, is a forward step. And forward has been a rare direction on immigration for a Congress and White House gridlocked over almost everything.
It’s even more important that this bill comes from two GOP leaders in the Senate, albeit two senators on their way back to private life when this lame-duck session ends. Neither sought re-election this fall. In fairness, they are not the first Republicans to stick their necks out.
President George W. Bush spent much of his political capital in a failed reach for comprehensive reform in 2007. Sen. John McCain led the fight in Congress, which doubtlessly affected grass-roots enthusiasm for his 2008 presidential bid. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a future GOP leader, has promised DREAM-like legislation, although he’s not part of the Hutchison-Kyl effort.
Beyond the politics, the Achieve Act would begin to correct an inequity in current immigration law that punishes young people for their parents’ acts. It would apply to applicants who entered the U.S. before age 14 and have lived here five years. We would hope many of these U.S.-educated young people would take their proper place in line and seek citizenship, but the most important issue is to legalize their statuses in the only country most have ever known.
Whether your primary view is moral, ethical or practical, it’s the right move all around.