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Where’s Plan B on Immigration? Better Have One Soon

There’s nothing I’d like more than to see comprehensive immigration reform pass this year, but those who want to repair this broken system ought to quietly concoct a less-than-comprehensive Plan B just in case.

That’s because a comprehensive bill granting a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented residents of the United States is likely to be weighed down with so many conditions and complexities — waiting periods, proofs of taxes paid and years worked, denials of public benefits, border security certifications — that it may not do much for most of the people it’s designed to help.

And it will be the target of so much flak that it may bring down other reform provisions with it.

By all means, the Senate and House gangs of eight trying to come up with a comprehensive bill should see how far they can get.

The good news is that, for many reasons, comprehensive reform has its best chance of passage in years. Polls indicate that 70 percent of all voters favor legal status — even eventual citizenship — for the undocumented, including more than 60 percent of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center and Fox News.

After the 2012 elections, Republicans — at least the rational ones — are concerned that their party will never again win a presidential election if they don’t “get good” with Latino voters.

And President Barack Obama presumably would rather have immigration reform as part of his legacy rather than see Republicans commit demographic suicide, tempting as though that might be.

On the other hand, there are already signs of trouble. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who briefly looked like the champion of reform, is showing signs of cold feet. Six GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee want to slow-walk immigration legislation even as Obama says he wants to speed it through.

And while the National Rifle Association came out guns blazing (as it were) on day one against new firearms legislation, the nativist lobby on immigration — FAIR, Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Colcom Foundation — has only begun to whip up a frenzy against “amnesty” for “lawbreakers.”

And then there’s the House Republican Conference, which likely will yield to the basest elements of its base and block any comprehensive bill.

So as a precaution, members of Congress who want to improve the immigration system ought to think about an alternative agenda — a combination of measures more likely to pass than comprehensive immigration reform. Such as the DREAM Act for people brought to this country illegally as children, expansion of H1B visas for highly skilled foreigners, green cards for those earning science and engineering degrees from U.S. universities, temporary visas for low-skilled and agricultural workers, and expedited processing for those applying for legal entry.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., has suggested that immigration should be handled piecemeal. Democrats should have a quiet talk with him.

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