The time is ripe for comprehensive immigration reform. Border enforcement has brought illegal crossings down by 80 percent over the last two decades. Fortune 500 business leaders and farmers are unified in demanding a system that meets 21st-century economic needs. And pretending that the 12 million illegal immigrants who are already here can and will just go away is no longer feasible. This week, a bipartisan group of senators, as well as President Obama, all publicly agreed to these basic principles. This itself is tremendous progress. But success will ultimately come down to the details of a legislative proposal. And it is always the details that undermine comprehensive immigration reform.
The hopeful news is that many leaders of the Republican Party seem ready to endorse a comprehensive plan. Senator Marco Rubio, a rising star among Republicans, has put the full weight of his career behind pushing a resolution that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
As of now, it appears the major stumbling block is a unique facet of the Senate plan that links that path to citizenship to the findings of a Southwest Commission, comprised of “governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the southwest border to monitor the progress” in border enforcement. It could end up giving veto power over the whole plan to local politicians like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, whose career is based on her Draconian crackdown on illegal immigrants. Without a clear promise of a path to citizenship, many illegal immigrants will refuse to come forward, undermining the whole process. But the language of the Senate proposal is still quite vague — a sketch of agreed-upon points rather than an actual plan.
Now, the focus has to be on the details. And the Senate deserves a chance to take the lead, as Obama vowed on Tuesday. If the “gang of eight” senators who came forward earlier in the week fail to build upon their proposal, the White House can step in. With so much already agreed upon, the fate of so many people — and this nation’s economic competitiveness — should not come down to a game of dare.