IMMIGRATION REFORM legislation is alive and well and has begun to move in Congress.
Last week a Senate subcommittee took up Sen. Alan Simpson's bill and adopted a handful of amendments. More will be considered tomorrow, and supporters expect a bill to be reported before the end of the month. The leadership has scheduled three days of floor debate before the August recess, and if a bill is not passed then, it will be the pending business when Congress returns after Labor Day.
We have heard very little about immigration reform since last October, when a conference committee could not agree on a compromise between the bills passed by the House and Senate. To have reached that point in the legislative process and then lose the bill in the closing days of the last Congress was very disappointing. Since then, supporters have been regrouping, tinkering with language and revising strategy. There is still no House bill, and Sen. Simpson's proposal was introduced only two months ago. But a great deal has been going on behind the scenes.
The good news on the House side is that Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is taking an active role in drafting a bill. He is working with Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D- Ky.), the subcommittee chairman, who has led the House effort for a number of years. A bill should be ready for introduction before the recess, and with the powerful chairman's backing, it will have momentum right from the start.
In addition, Hispanic members of Congress appear to be less hostile than in previous years, to the idea of employer sanctions so long as they are accompanied by a generous amnesty. Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), the chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, testified on the issue during recent Senate hearings. While he was critical of Sen. Simpson's bill as introduced, he pledged on behalf of himself and the caucus to work for an effective and fair bill that has "real potential for enactment." "I am willing personally to consider the imposition of sanctions as a necessary element of a balanced package," he said, so long as provisions are included that address discrimination and accelerate legalization.
It has always been difficult for Congress to deal with immigration. As a nation, we are pulled in two directions by conflicting desires to welcome immigrants and control our borders. That ambivalence has made it easier to ignore a growing problem than to deal with it. But now, after five years of legislative consideration, a consensus appears to be slowly forming. This Congress may finally be the one to do the job.