Event Re-Cap: "Evaluating Immigration Reform's Prospects"

NDN and the New Policy Institute hosted long-time immigration advocates Tamar Jacoby and Frank Sharry along with NDN President Simon Rosenberg for an expert thought-provoking discussion on immigration reform. While they agreed that the timeline is uncertain, and the strategy has yet to be fully articulated by politicians on both sides of the aisle, they all demonstrated a rare undeterred optimism that a path forward to bipartisan immigration reform legislation exists and is within reach.

You can watch the video of their discussion here and a summary of highlights follows below.

Ms. Jacoby, a self-identified “R,” outlined where her party is on immigration reform now, saying the “fundamentals are better than they have ever been.” Throughout the last decade, most of the Republican Party has been against immigration reform, but now Republican leadership, including Speaker Boehner, Representatives Cantor, Goodlatte, and Ryan, “all are very invested in reform” and working to get something done. Meanwhile, virulent opponents of immigration reform like Representative Steve King (Iowa) have been marginalized and no longer represent the majority of the party who are really “grappling” with the issue and what they can do. Ms. Jacoby proceeded to address one of the most controversial topics of the immigration debate, the dispute over legalization and citizenship. She gamed out that through the approach, recently articulated by Goodlatte and Ryan, of immigration reform that includes legalization without a “special path” to citizenship, plus a Kids’ Act, as many as 7 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for citizenship through existing channels. While immigration reform is a difficult topic and other issues have bumped it down the to-do list, there is above all a "lingering sense that it has to get done and party has to get to it."

Mr. Sharry, a leader of the progressive immigration reform movement, touted that the entire pro-immigration reform movement “left, right and center, has never been stronger."  In firm opposition to the “conventional wisdom that we’re being slow-walked to death,” he affirmed why he is still optimistic. The politics of immigration reform have transformed as Arizona-style attrition and self-deportation laws were defeated by the Supreme Court and 2012 election, and President Obama approved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals last year. The Senate bill passed with a strong bipartisan majority in June. There are enough votes in the House “to pass a reasonably good bill…immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” and “our fundamentals are stronger than the House Republican dysfunction.” From a policy perspective, the majority of the US supports immigration reform and it would benefit the economy by leveling the playing field for employers and wages, decreasing the national deficit, and increasing innovation. Young DREAMers have put a human face on the issue, allowing critics to see the “others are us’es.” Finally, a broad diverse coalition of business groups, evangelicals, Catholics, agriculture groups, and progressive forces all support it. Mr. Sharry said he could also see the outline of a bipartisan deal on legislation, as long as the details do not include something like the SAFE Act on interior enforcement, and do support family unification and legalization with an opportunity for citizenship for the 11 million. “If House Republicans come forward with commonsense approach to dealing with the 11 million, I think we’ll get across the finish line this year.” 

Mr. Rosenberg of the center-left NDN, whose 21st Century Border Initiative has focused on the need for smart improvements on the border that promote trade and serve the entire US economy, also laid out his version of a compromise. He highlighted that it should include border infrastructure and reengage the Texas Congressional GOP, including Senator Cornyn and Representative McCaul, who shepherded a border security act through the House Homeland Security Committee with unanimous bipartisan support.

Immigration reform is alive. It is time for both parties to step onto the path forward to compromise.