Gridlock Broken, Open Road Ahead For Immigration Reform

After the historically unproductive 112th Congress, it seems the 113th is determined to try to beat the president to the punch – at least if the issue of immigration is a bellwether.

On Monday, eight senators – four Republicans and four Democrats – unveiled an outline for a possible immigration law overhaul. This announcement came just ahead of President Obama’s remarks on the same topic, which he delivered in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

The Senate plan is brief, at a little over four pages, and leaves a great deal to fill in. But it shows a clear way forward and suggests that the time for serious immigration reform has finally arrived.

I have written often in this space about the pressing need for a saner immigration policy. Just under a year ago, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., proposed a version of Sen. Richard Durbin’s Dream Act bill, which ended up going nowhere. (Both Rubio and Durbin are among the new plan’s bipartisan team of developers.) A couple months later, Obama announced an executive order that clumsily attempted to patch over the current Kafkaesque system. But the reality of enforcement remained arbitrary and frustrating.

This new agreement feels different than other recent attempts at change, however, both in its support and its provisions. The suggestions include all the elements that a sensible immigration overhaul should have, including: a provision to legitimize the 11 million people who are already here illegally without making them return to their home countries first; a way to allow skilled college graduates to stay and work for – or, one day, start – companies based in America; and a means to give unskilled people ways to come here to do jobs that Americans won’t do.

The Senate plan includes compromises that are not in Obama’s proposal. Most notably, the plan includes stepping up border security before current undocumented immigrants can begin the path to citizenship. Those immigrants would also face a fine, the prospect of federal back taxes, and a long wait while those who have already applied for permanent resident status under the current system are processed first. Whether the plan remains mainly intact or evolves before its adoption remains to be seen.

Even in its current form, this plan should easily pass in the Senate with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes. It will be harder to get through the House of Representatives, where many Republicans come from districts with strong anti-immigrant sentiment and relatively small numbers of Hispanic voters. They may see themselves as vulnerable to primary challenges if they budge on the issue. But the GOP’s leaders clearly learned from the November elections that, to be competitive in statewide and national balloting in the future, the party has to respond to the concerns of America’s fast-growing Hispanic population, who want to see their often-separated families reunited, legally and safely, here in the United States.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the former presidential candidate and another of the plan’s designers, spoke to ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “There is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle – including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle – that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” he said. “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got to understand that.”

Though individual Republicans, mainly from the House, have already rejected the proposal, the Republican Party as a whole can’t afford to be so intractable. Mitt Romney earned barely a quarter of the Hispanic vote last November, which proved one of his key stumbling blocks in the presidential race. The party itself, as well as its candidates, is fighting a perception – often forged in statehouses in places like Arizona and Alabama, as much as in Washington – that it is flatly anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant. The best way to replace that perception is by helping to create a new immigration reality, with a system that is humane, efficient and fair.

So we can expect House Speaker John Boehner to, once again, abandon the “Boehner principle” by allowing his chamber to consider immigration reform legislation even if a majority of Boehner’s own caucus opposes it, as he did with the fiscal cliff legislation on New Year’s Day. Just as with the cliff legislation, we can expect immigration reform to pass the House with primarily Democratic votes, supplemented by a minority of Republican members. This will permit individual GOP members to vote either their consciences or their district’s politics in opposition, while the national GOP avoids the continuing stigma of being the main obstacle to much-needed reform.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the time was right for the proposal, which he helped develop. “First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.” The political sweet spot between what Democrats want and what Republicans need should be enough to give this plan the necessary momentum.

I’m not certain Democrats want immigration reform as badly as Menendez implied. Labor unions, the party’s strongest support base, historically dread wage competition immigrant workers. The Senate plan has drawn some initial support from unions, but we’ll see what happens when legislators start working out the details. Democrats have had a virtually free ride on immigration in recent years while Republicans beat their chests about border security. We are likely to see some divisions on the Democratic side, too, as reform makes its way through Congress.

An overhaul was too long in coming, and the proposal is still far from a done deal. But the political stars seem to have finally aligned to help us get to a reasonable resolution for immigration.

About Larry M. Elkin 511 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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