One of the best ways to reach bipartisan agreement on comprehensive immigration reform is to begin with a significant border security bill. Before we decide on what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants in America, a bill substantively addressing the problems and threats along our Southern border needs to be crafted and enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. Comprehensive immigration reform does not have to take place in the form a single massive piece of legislation; a series of immigration reform bills can constitute comprehensive immigration reform. We must make it incredibly difficult for people to illegally enter into our nation. By starting comprehensive immigration reform with discourses about amnesty or a pathway to citizenship for extant illegal immigrants in America evinces a failure to commit to first principles: enforce the existing rule of law and keep the homeland safe from potential terrorists who could use our porous Southern border as a vehicle for entrance into our great country.
President Obama taking unilateral action on immigration is severely damaging to efforts to reach bipartisan reforms on immigration. If President Obama is truly interested in working with Republicans to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, then he must rescind his unilateral action on immigration and refrain from future unilateral action on immigration. President Obama cannot honestly expect to build relationship across political aisles while sending messages that he’ll do what he wants to do with or without the approval of Congress—that’s simply no way to engage in mature negotiations.
Although Republicans need to continue to insist on border security first as their approach to comprehensive immigration reform, they must also speak openly about their plans for comprehensive immigration beyond border security. Too often Republicans allow themselves to appear myopic on comprehensive immigration reform: they’ve permitted Democrats to paint an effective picture of them as having no real plans for comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans must publicly discuss their complete ideas for comprehensive immigration reform and not limited their public discussions of comprehensive immigration reform to border security.
After passing meaningful border security legislation and providing the necessary funding for this legislation, Democrats and Republicans can come together to reform the traditional immigration system. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the traditional immigration system needs modernizing to make the process of becoming an American citizen more humane. The length of time it takes to become an America citizen should be greatly reduced. Many illegal immigrants chose to enter our country illegally because it takes too long to gain citizenship through our current immigration process. We can make illegal immigration less attractive by making legal immigration more appealing.
Our elected national officials in Washington, D.C. too often take a failed approach to solving complex problems: by beginning with where they disagree instead of where they agree. The American people—Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike—must demand their elected national officials to approach comprehensive immigration reform by beginning with what they agree on and move on to the more contentious issues of comprehensive immigration reform.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison