The 2006 and 2007 comprehensive immigration packages were premised on different facts. An approach more in line with current realities comes from a bipartisan panel assembled by the Brookings Institution and Duke University's Kenan Institute.
The Brookings/Kenan panel would provide for legalization of less than half of current illegals, with stringent requirements and only after stepped-up workplace enforcement provisions reach stated levels of use and effectiveness. Technology should allow programs like e-Verify to screen job applicants for legal status in a way that was promised but never delivered by previous immigration laws.
In addition, the Brookings/Kenan panel urges a sharp reduction in the number of green cards for relatives beyond the nuclear family of current legal residents and a sizable increase in admissions of high-skill immigrants. This is the approach taken, with good results, by Canada and Australia, which liberalized their immigration laws after our 1965 law opened the floodgates.
These proposals address the political reality that any new immigration bill must have bipartisan support, because the issue poses dangers for both Democrats and Republicans.
Conditioning legalization on more effective enforcement procedures could give Democrats cover from attacks for supporting amnesty. They could argue, accurately, that enforcement has become more effective and that they voted to make it even tougher.
Changing admissions requirements from favoring extended family members to favoring high-skill immigrants could give Republicans cover from charges that they are anti-immigrant. They could argue that, in a time of high and extended unemployment, it makes sense to switch from admitting job seekers to admitting job creators.
The 1965 and 1986 laws resulted in a large illegal immigrant population because they promised things that proved beyond the capacity of government to deliver. Now that a combination of public indignation and high-tech ingenuity have increased government's enforcement capacity, and while the inflow of immigrants is slowing and an outflow of illegals may be accelerating, we may have reached a point when we can put in place immigration laws with enforceable limits and that encourage an influx of the kind of immigrants we need most. Can Congress act?