Amid all the loud protestations surrounding the Senate's immigration proposal, not enough has been said in favor of its strongest attribute -- the recognition of the contributions and value of the 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the country. Whatever its flaws -- and it does have considerable flaws -- the bill would finally bring those workers out of the shadows -- no longer would they have to live beholden to unscrupulous employers or in fear of having their lives suddenly uprooted by deportation.

Bringing these workers into mainstream society would also be of great benefit to the country. Not only would we continue to benefit from their labor, but legalizing these workers would shut down the cottage industry of falsified documents, and we would finally know who is here and where they live and work. The bill would also rightfully weed out those who have committed crimes and would go a long way toward restoring the rule of law.

Aside from resolving the status of the 12 million undocumented workers, there is little to love in the Senate's proposal -- onerous fines and requirements for citizenship, an unnecessary and burdensome touchback provision, a drastic departure from family reunification immigration and a lack of citizenship option to future workers, give us several reasons to condemn this bill. But too much is riding on this bill to simply write it off. What the Senate has presented us is salvageable. We might not have another opportunity to solve our immigration crisis for a long time. We can't afford that – our national security can't wait that long, the undocumented living in the shadows can't wait that long, industries that rely on immigrant labor can’t wait that long.

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We should focus our energies on righting the more serious shortcomings of the bill -- the future worker program and the radical departure from this country's history of putting family reunification first.

True comprehensive immigration reform should take into consideration the causes of past illegal immigration and work to prevent it from being repeated. But the future worker program measure included in the Senate's proposal would only encourage people to overstay their visas. It's absurd to believe people will come here to work for two years and return to their country for a year.

Family reunification should remain the focus of our immigration system. As it is, families wait years, if not decades to reunite. It is not humane to keep families apart. It’s also not smart to give people no hope of reuniting with their parents, grown children and siblings. A lack of hope invites illegality. No fence, real or virtual, will dissuade people from trying to reunite with their families.

President Bush should expend whatever political capital he has left to assure that the final product reflects what he has long promised – smart and effective legislation that honors our immigration tradition while securing our borders and acknowledging the contributions of the millions of undocumented workers by providing a path to earned citizenship.

It won’t be easy, but Congress has a golden opportunity to show the country that when the country’s future is at stake, it can come together and act in the country’s best interest.

Editor's note: Democracia Ahora is a project of People For the American Way.