Immigration Reform About to Finish First Mile of Marathon

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The big sticking point in the Gang of 8 negotiations over immigration reform has been border enforcement. Hardliners want some kind of firm metric that demonstrates a sharp drop in illegal immigration before anyone currently in the country is allowed to apply for citizenship. Reformers generally consider this a trap, and want to legislate a softer set of goals. The New York Times reports today that the Gang’s “delicate compromise” avoids specific measurements:

Instead, the bill allows a period of 10 years for the Department of Homeland Security to make plans and use resources to fortify enforcement at the borders and elsewhere within the country before it sets several broader hurdles that could derail the immigrants’ progress toward citizenship if they are not achieved.

During the first decade after passage, the bill sets ambitious goals for border authorities — including continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border and 90 percent effectiveness of enforcement in several high-risk sectors — and for other workplace and visa enforcement measures. It provides at least $3 billion for Homeland Security officials to meet those goals during the first five years, with a possibility of additional financing.

That all sounds fine, and it’s probably the best that can be done if we want to get a bill started through the legislative process. But there’s no way that any kind of delicate compromise will survive the crucible of debate. It’s going to get amended to death almost instantly, and that might or might not kill the entire bill.

In other words: it’s a nice start. But we’re only about 10 percent of the way there. Immigration reform still has a helluva long way to go.

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