It is time for lawmakers to come together on immigration reform

It is time for lawmakers to come together on immigration reform
© Getty Images

If you want to get something comprehensive and politically sensitive done in Congress, half the battle is finding the right political moment and the other half is being ready when that moment arrives. While the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals looms large over next year, we are unlikely to see a major overhaul of our immigration system during this presidential election cycle, but the next year will be critical to laying the groundwork for meaningful reform.

Democrats in the House are moving immigration legislation. This includes the Dream and Promise Act to address those who are under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and with temporary protected status, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act to remove the per country caps for employment based visas and increase the cap for family based visas, and several bills to address the conditions in the detention centers.

This is a good start. But if Democrats are truly interested in reforming our broken immigration system, they will keep legislating with the intent of inviting a negotiation with Republicans. Democrats should move forward legislation to reform our guest worker programs and green card system. They should put forth a solution to address the broader undocumented population. They should pass a bill to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the southern border and improve the overburdened asylum system. They should even advance legislation to strengthen and modernize border security. Staking out a clear position on issues like these will show that they are serious and ready to get to work on a compromise.


If Democrats are willing to engage on a bipartisan basis, there are good indications that Republicans will respond in kind. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow the Democratic Party's campaign strategy is failing America GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis MORE has opened the door to bipartisan talks, saying it is “long past due” for both sides to sit down together and try to address the issues with our system. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has a long history of reaching across the aisle to legislate on this topic and is working now on a bill to address our asylum system. Many other Republicans in the Senate have introduced legislation to address other aspects of our immigration system. Senator Rand Paul, for instance, has introduced the Believe Act aimed at reforming legal immigration.

At the White House, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE has shown interest in using the model that led to successful enactment of broadly bipartisan criminal justice reform to tackle immigration. The administration is preparing a plan to reform our immigration system with an eye toward unifying the party. As with Democrats, this is an important goal given the complex political dynamics, and one that has so far proven elusive for Republicans. If Kushner and his team are successful in crafting a starting point for Republicans, it will be a crucial step for immigration reform efforts.

Kushner has described the White House objectives in this plan, which are to protect American wages, fully secure the border, ensure our country is welcoming and able to attract the best and brightest from around the world, maintain our humanitarian values, including the reunification of families, and allow our country to be competitive in the long term. These aret the kind of basic principles that both Republicans and Democrats should be able to embrace in their efforts to fix our immigration system.

So when lawmakers on both sides have staked out their positions, they should get in a room and start hashing out a compromise. Sure, this will not happen overnight, it will not happen in a month, and it may take years, but when the political stars align and the moment arrives, they need to be ready. That is why the next year will be absolutely crucial for reform.

During my time in Congress, I sat in countless meetings with Republicans and Democrats. There are people of goodwill on both sides genuinely interested in crafting a solution through compromise. Both sides must set aside harsh rhetoric and come together to solve this problem for the greater good. All Americans have a vested interest in Congress achieving a permanent solution, whether it be the desire to secure our borders, to provide our farmers and our employers with the workers ththey need to grow our economy, or to address the undocumented population.

A recent Gallup Poll found that immigration is the second most important issue to Americans right now, behind concerns about broken government. What clearer indication do we have that Americans want to see their government working through compromise to address immigration? Our elected leaders should not write off the next year when there is progress to be made and plenty of middle ground to be found on an issue that affects not only our lives, but also greatly impacts our economy.

Casey Higgins is a fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center. She previously served as an assistant to Speaker Paul Ryan for policy and trade counsel.