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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued nine principles that will guide our thinking on an immigration rewrite. Now that the immigration debate is starting to take shape, it is worth reviewing them. So far, with few exceptions, the principles identified by the CHC are being adhered to. I have highlighted a few below.
• Legalization with a path to citizenship: For the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living here, there are no realistic choices available other than legalization. The Mitt Romney policy of “self-deportation” and Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws did not pass the laugh test. If anything, the fantasy that 11 million people and their families should leave the U.S. motivated Latinos and other immigration-sensitive (and reality-sensitive) voters to pull the lever for Democrats.
According to every poll, the American people strongly support citizenship for undocumented immigrants (including a Feb. 2013 Washington Post poll that found 70 percent support). Republicans are coalescing around a policy of not creating a “special path to citizenship” for the undocumented, in the words of Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. As far as I can tell, what the Republicans want and what the Democrats want are not mutually exclusive. On this critical aspect of immigration policy, we will arrive at a compromise that both sides will see as acceptable, if not ideal.
• Protect the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of binational, same-sex couples: Family unity is a core principle of America’s immigration history and should be a core principle of a policy overhaul. The massive increase in deportations over the past four years has taken a toll on American families. We will likely arrive at a mix of family- and business-based visas in whatever final package we pass. Visas for graduates of American universities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are popular on both sides, but so is a significant reduction in the waiting times for family-based immigration. Getting it right will be difficult. Republicans undervalue families and put a premium on skills. Democrats understand that unless our immigration policies comport with reality, they are likely to be inadequate or out-of-date quickly. Families support each other, spawn small businesses and facilitate integration. Modern families include same-sex couples, many of whom have children. Unless our immigration system accommodates that reality, it will not fully fix our immigration problems. Democrats and some Republicans are committed to fighting for the immigration rights of all families.
• Establish a workable employment verification system that prevents unlawful employment, rewards employers and employees who play by the rules and protects Americans’ right to work and their privacy: The CHC is committed to reasonable enforcement measures that ensure our system has integrity. We do not need to compromise privacy or create onerous burdens on employers and employees to do so. We need to improve on our current E-Verify system, but the concept of having a more technologically sophisticated worker verification system than the perforated blue Social Security card my grandfather, father and grandson all have is well past due.
I do not wish to minimize the areas of contention on the immigration debate. But when you look at the impasse on the budget and the sequester, when you look at so many issues that seem so bound up in partisanship and gridlock, immigration stands out as the one area where the two parties will find a way to get something done this year.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., is a member of the Judiciary Committee and is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force.