Effective immigration reform

President Barack Obama will introduce his proposal for immigration reform in Nevada today.

The political climate for this proposal to move forward is the most favorable in years—and probably the best chance we’ll have for a long time. But clearly, it’s far from a done deal.

The bipartisan reform plan presented yesterday by a group of U.S. senators—including Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey—shows the complexity of this legislation. The proposal meets conditions to please the two main sides of this debate: advocates of legalization and full integration of undocumented immigrants, and supporters of mechanisms to reduce immigration. The challenge for legislators is to strike a balance between these two approaches so that the bill can be passed in Congress.

A pre-condition of the senators’ proposal is a plan to increase security and prevent illegal immigration, before consideration of legalization. Details have yet to be defined about timelines and the implementation goals, as well as enforcement processes.

Given the dissatisfaction of Republican lawmakers with efforts to reduce illegal immigration, this pre-condition is a cause for concern. The Obama administration has spent unprecedented federal resources to decrease illegal entry through the southern border, as well as on questionable and record-setting deportation programs that have torn too many families apart. Few Republicans acknowedge this.

The House of Representatives, which is much less open to legalizing the undocumented, is also preparing its own version of reform—one that is expected to be tough to reconcile with the Senate’s version. Not to mention that anti-immigrant groups are planning to fight reform efforts.

Immigration is the first test by fire of Obama’s second term. He must bring firm leadership towards ending the legal limbo that has not only devastated Latino and immigrant communities but also deprived our nation of an economic powerhouse.