But the proposal is just a starting point, and there is plenty of room to bargain. The bill also includes a huge expansion in enforcement efforts, including a 50 percent increase in the border patrol -- which is already nearly double the size it was when President Bush took office. The plan would also include a secure identity card everyone in the United States would have to use, citizen and non-citizen alike, to gain employment. In addition, the proposal would also expand the current border fence with Mexico to include 200 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing and 300 miles of electronic sensors.
One of those who see the administration's efforts as a glass half-full is the Manhattan Institute's Tamar Jacoby. "It's an important step forward that these Republicans have come up with a proposal that they can take to the Democrats in an effort to craft robust, bipartisan legislation," she told me this week.
"Parts of the proposal are more realistic than others," she said. "But it shifts the battle away from what to do with 12 million already here -- the GOP senators now seem to understand they are going to stay -- to the issue of who will come in the future. The terms and conditions for new workers visas is where both sides will have to do some hard negotiating that will come to compromise."
I hope she's right. But there seems to be a long road ahead to craft a bill that will serve the country well into the future. And the closer we get to another election season, the less likely it will be that Congress will put aside partisan bickering to get this done.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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