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What could have been: An America with immigration reform

The Dome of the U.S. Capitol as seen on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

Imagine this: It’s July of 2007, and after exhausting negotiations, the biggest piece of immigration legislation in decades — the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 — has passed the Senate and House with bipartisan votes of 63-37 and 252-180, respectively and is on its way to President George W. Bush’s desk for signature. Of course, that legislative achievement never happened.

Instead, the 2007 bill died amid a confluence of hard-right opposition to legalization, union opposition to new guest worker programs, and the decision of the new Congressional Democratic majority not to prioritize the issue, despite support from a Republican president and many of his allies in Congress.

One Republican Senator described the sweeping 2007 bill as “trading the past for the future.” And indeed, the bill was extremely generous to those who had immigrated illegally, including broad legalization provisions. At the same time, it would have created a flexible system of guest worker programs designed to match the employment needs of the country, implemented mandatory employer immigration checks, and enhanced border and visa security.

But let’s just imagine a bit longer if members of the 110th Congress had managed to thread the needle on immigration reform in 2007 — What would have that outcome meant for the future of America, some 15 years later?

Alternative history is always speculative, but the failure of Congress to turn bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform into an actual legislative achievement in 2007 should be considered one of the biggest missed opportunities in American history.

Fifteen years later, our borders are more chaotic, our economy is hindered by outdated and insufficient work visa policies, and our country is more divided than ever on immigration.

Let’s hope that the next window for bipartisan immigration reform opens soon and that Congress finally achieves what should have happened in 2007.

C. Stewart Verdery Jr. served as Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration and as general counsel to the Senate Republican Whip. He is the CEO of Monument Advocacy and a member of the Council on National Security and Immigration.