No one ever said immigration reform is a simple matter. As if to underline this fact, the sweeping legislation introduced this week by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" runs to nearly 850 pages.
With barely enough time for most people to download the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, let alone read it, the proposal already was taking shots from critics on the left and right. Many liberals dislike its 13-year path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. From the conservative side came disapproving cries of "Amnesty!"
Such opposition no doubt presents a hurdle for the legislation, but it also highlights the opportunity. This bill represents compromise on a grand scale-and that's exactly what will be needed to win passage.
To be sure, the measure unveiled this week is a starting point; some revisions are certain to come as lawmakers and others scrutinize the details. But there's no question it targets the key failings of the current immigration system.
Most people who have been living in this country illegally would be given legal status and a clear process for becoming citizens. The bill also contains a new visa program for low-skill workers and requirements for tougher border security.
Importantly, the proposal aims to reshape immigration in ways that could spur economic growth. Under the existing system, most visas go to family members of immigrants already living here; in the future, the allotment for those graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics would increase. Today's annual limits on H-1Bs, or temporary visas for highly skilled foreigners, would jump to 110,000 from 65,000-and eventually to 180,000. Another provision calls for a new "startup visa" for foreign entrepreneurs.
With other countries already taking similar steps, this refocusing is a matter of U.S. competitiveness.
To many people, immigration reform is a moral issue. Others, including most employers, see it in economic terms. Broadly speaking, the Gang of Eight proposal gets it right on both fronts.
This chance to achieve real, historic reform should not be wasted.
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