Cooperation works

May 18, 2007

Lo and behold, it's still true that if negotiators with divergent views but a common goal work hard enough and long enough, they can produce a workable compromise - even on one of the nation's most contentious issues.

Yesterday's breakthrough agreement on immigration reform between President Bush and a bipartisan group of senators also demonstrated the wisdom of including those with relatively extreme views along with more moderate voices.

Which is not to say the compromise proposal will have an easy trip through Congress, or that it can't be improved along the way.

But all the negotiators - including two members of Mr. Bush's Cabinet - deserve credit for giving a long-overdue update of the nation's immigration laws its best chance in years.

If it succeeds, millions of undocumented aliens will finally be able to come out of the shadows, win quick legal status and, after paying fees and a $5,000 fine, start on a long path to permanent residency. Heads of households would be required to return to their home country, at least briefly.

Meanwhile, a new priority would be established for extending immigration privileges that favors education and skill level over family connections. Only spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens could take advantage of family ties.

The proposal is more conservative than the bill passed by the Senate last year, reflecting concerns that border security improvements and implementation of a high-tech worker identification program should be in place before a new temporary guest worker program is launched.

Predictably, though, it was immediately tarred as an "amnesty" program by conservative lawmakers, who believe that all 12 million illegal aliens should somehow be rounded up and deported. And liberal lawmakers complained about upending the long-standing practice of immigrants' being able to send home for their relatives.

Yet President Bush called the proposal "an important accomplishment, an important first step" at what all acknowledge is the most auspicious moment likely to present itself until after next year's elections.

The rest of Congress should take advantage of this opportunity to make solid progress toward developing an immigration policy that is realistic, effective and humane.

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