Editorial: Commit to real immigration reform

The Detroit News

President Donald Trump dropped hints this week that he is open to comprehensive legislation reform that deals with both border security and the roughly 12 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.

Congress should take advantage of the opening and present him with a bill that replaces a hodgepodge of executive orders with legislation that brings sensible reform to immigration policies.

And they don’t have to start from scratch.

A decade ago Congress and then-President George W. Bush got close on a package of reforms that would have both secured the borders and provided a path to normalization for people in the U.S. without legal permission.

It was a solid plan, forged from a bipartisan compromise, but unfortunately never got a vote.

That package included funding for 300 additional miles of vehicle barriers on the southern border, 120 more surveillance towers and 20,000 extra Border Patrol agents.

Such a beefed up security force should be able to accomplish the same thing as Trump’s proposed border wall, but at a fraction of the cost and less political fallout.

Also, the bills would have given visa priority to high-skilled workers, something Trump mentioned in his speech to Congress Tuesday. American industry needs more immigrant talent to grow the economy.

It would also have provided legal status to immigrants here illegally and a path toward citizenship.

The latter provision sticks in the craw of hardliners who believe it’s possible to round up and deport 12 million people. It isn’t, and pretending otherwise hinders a realistic immigration solution.

A Bush-style plan would still allow for the deportation of immigrants who commit felonies, and it should. But it hangs on to immigrants who are working and living productive lives, and are needed in America’s workforce. An estimated 85 percent of those 12 million fall into that category.

At the same time, the additional border security should keep the number of immigrants here illegally from growing.

Getting the border under control and normalizing those who are already here would allow the United States to focus on more controlled and selective immigration that brings in the talent the country needs, as well as leaving the door open for opportunity and asylum seekers who want to come here to grow and be safe.

Other bills introduced in that era and supported by Bush would have expanded the guest worker program to accommodate farm workers and others who want to come to the U.S. for a season and then return home. Such a program would reduce the incentive to sneak across the border illegally.

Again, these bills were the product of bipartisan negotiations. Whether putting together legislation in that fashion is possible in today’s divisive, hateful climate in Washington is uncertain.

But there should be enough agreement on the core principles of immigration reform — increased border security, a path to normalization and a welcome mat for those with vital skills — that a comprehensive package can be passed that solves the problem far more effectively than a giant wall ever could.