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The immigration reform bill worked out in bipartisan fashion by a group of eight senators is ambitious in its scope, practical in its approach and deft in finding a political middle ground on this very contentious issue. It is deserving of Senate and, subsequently, House approval.
While the coming hearing process could lead to suggestions for tweaking the legislation, any attempt at major changes could quickly dissolve the fragile coalition that has moved the process this far. Under the proposal, Democrats get the path to citizenship they sought for those who came to the country illegally, but who have otherwise been law-abiding residents. Republicans, meanwhile, get a beefed up border security program to allay fears that any forgiveness program will invite a new flood of unlawful immigration. The bill would also make it more difficult for employers to hire people with illegal status.
The path to citizenship, an estimated 13 years for most, is longer than many Democrats and immigration reform advocates want. On the other hand, many Republicans do not get the ironclad assurances about the integrity of the new border security systems that they wanted.
This is a smart bill. Once tougher border security measures are operational, adult immigrants who arrived as adults can apply for "Registered Provisional Immigrant Status," bringing them legally into the economy and the nation's tax system, while they begin the long process toward citizenship. It provides a quicker path to citizenship, five years, for so-called "Dreamers," those young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.
Using a new point system, the proposed reforms would award more visas for permanent legal status, known as green cards, based on skills and education. Over a decade, it is estimated this would result in 50 percent of visas awarded based on job skills, 50 percent due to family ties. Today, about three-quarters of visas go to family members of immigrants already in the country.
Similarly, it would increase the number of high-skilled H-1b visas - awarded to scientists and engineers with advanced degrees. Now capped at 65,000, they would grow to 180,000.
In providing a way for the 11 million people now living in the nation illegally a way out of the shadows and in assuring more skilled people who want to help this nation improve get that opportunity, this bill finally offers genuine and sensible immigration reform.