Immigration Reform on the Way?

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It’s not perfect, but the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to report out a quite reasonable immigration bill yesterday:

With Republicans deeply divided, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Monday to legalize the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants and ultimately to grant them citizenship, provided that they hold jobs, pass criminal background checks, learn English and pay fines and back taxes.

The panel also voted to create a vast temporary worker program that would allow roughly 400,000 foreigners to come to the United States to work each year and would put them on a path to citizenship as well.

That doesn’t mean a reasonable immigration bill is what will actually become law: the Senate’s version of the immigration bill still has to be reconciled with the draconian House version—which apparently envisions the deportation of millions of families with social and economic ties to this country—and the Republican leadership can pretty much dominate that reconciliation process if it so chooses. Whether they’ll decide to toss all undocumented immigrants in jail or give them a clear path towards citizenship is unknown. Still, the Senate Judiciary bill is heartening.

But it’s also worth pointing out that comprehensive immigration reform can’t stop with a bill that only tackles citizenship. Paul Krugman, in an op-ed that was surprisingly negative on immigration yesterday, pointed out that unskilled immigration drives down wages for low-income workers here in America. Well, sure, that’s true, but that’s an argument for living wages, policies to promote full employment, and the expansion of basic rights to organize. Immigrants who can participate in and strengthen the labor movement in this country will help all workers, native or otherwise. Under the current regime, corporations can use immigration and “guest worker” policies to import a captive labor force, underpay them, and then drive down wages, which accounts for a good deal of the effect Krugman worries about.

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