House Republicans this week released their much anticipated "Standards for Immigration Reform." The document sets forth a series of principles for tackling the very difficult subject of immigration, including border security and interior enforcement, implementation of an entry-exit visa tracking system, employment verification and workplace enforcement, and reforming the legal immigration system, in that order. Written in the passive voice, the preamble admits that the immigration system we now have is badly out of date and places the blame squarely at the feet of Washington, which can be fairly interpreted as House Republicans themselves.
The "Standards for Immigration Reform" avoids taking a partisan tone but makes clear that House Republicans will not accept a comprehensive bill, advocating instead for "a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country's borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures." What "common-sense approach" means is anyone's guess. To advocates for comprehensive legislation, "common sense" means you address all the pieces of the puzzle in a single bill. And to call our patchwork of immigration laws a puzzle is no understatement.
As I see it, if every room in your house needs to be remodeled, then you hire a contractor to handle the entire job in a single project. The alternative is to do a series of projects that only increase cost and disrupt the lives of the occupants.
But let's be frank. Although the "Standards for Immigration Reform" is not a legally binding document or statement of the law which can be relied upon, it is a positive first step and, if not a starting point for bipartisan negotiations, at least a blueprint for holding a discussion. Democrats and immigration advocates might swear they would prefer death to a legalization program that does not offer everyone a path to citizenship. While that may be the correct bargaining position, it is not where you want to end up. In the end, any deal on immigration will require compromises on both sides of the aisle. A resolution that offers undocumented immigrants the opportunity to regularize their status short of achieving full citizenship may turn out to be better than no deal at all.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and recent Republican-sponsored bills in the House advocating for less due process for immigrants would not effectively advance the principles articulated by House Republicans this week. Even the "Standards for Immigration Reform" themselves do not reflect a political consensus among House Republicans. Some still oppose doing anything about the immigration system.
Whatever channels for discourse the "Standards for Immigration Reform" open up, I think we can expect to see some very interesting dialogue over the next few weeks as the newly announced principles are further debated within the Republican Party and reacted to by the White House.
Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.