Senate leader expects immigration reform will pass by summer
By Harry ReidNevada SenatorSenate Majority Leader
Washington, D.C.--Recently, I saw a newspaper photo of Renata Teodoro as she hugged her mother through the 18-foot, steel-beam fence that separates Arizona from Mexico. Standing on the Mexican side, Gorete Teodoro pressed her face against the fence and brought her daughter’s hand to her tear-covered cheek. As a father, that image of a hug across a fortified border seared itself on my heart. As a policy-maker, it outraged me that cases like this number in the tens of thousands as a result of our broken immigration system.
Renata Teodoro is a DREAMer who was separated from her mother when Gorete was deported in 2007. The Teodoros and their cross-border hug embody 11 million reasons why this week we must pass a strong immigration reform bill in the Senate that includes a path to citizenship for people like Renata. This bill deals with border issues. This bill deals with broken families. It deals with people who contribute to our economy. All those issues were captured in that moving front-page newspaper photo. And we can finally fix all that if our colleagues in the House stop letting the Tea Party set the agenda, and join the Senate in seizing this unique opportunity.
But we’ll need the community’s full support as well. As unique as this opportunity is, this bipartisan bill will continue facing many challenges over the next few weeks. So far we’ve reached bipartisan compromises thanks to Senators who value consensus. We have beaten back a raft of poison pill amendments designed to topple the bill’s most important pillar: the path to citizenship.
Path to citizenship
Let’s be clear: this is already a long and arduous path that in most cases would take more than 13 years to complete. It requires that the undocumented pass background checks twice, that they pay fines, taxes, learn English and go to the back of the line. This is not the bill I would have written on my own, nor is it the bill Republicans would have written on their own, but that is how you achieve compromise, the bedrock of America’s legislative architecture.
This compromise is a good bill that strengthens our economy, toughens border security, and gives young people like Renata an opportunity to earn a place in a country they love as their own. It gives a chance to people whose back-breaking toil in our nation’s fields puts affordable food on the table of virtually every person reading these words. Every day that goes by, the excuses to deny Renata a permanent solution, and the chance to someday piece back together her family, melt in the face of facts. As the hours pass, we are closer to passing immigration reform in the Senate.
But the bill’s most virulent opponents in the Senate, and especially in the House, continue hiding behind excuses. They ignore the billions of dollars we’ve poured into the border in recent years and the fortified structures such as the one through which Renata hugged her mother. They ignore the drones currently flying overhead and 21,000 uniformed men and women already on the ground. Last week, the bill’s supporters reached a dramatic bipartisan agreement to add to the $4.5 billion this bill already guaranteed in additional border security funding by doubling the current number of border patrol agents to 40,000 and mandating 700 miles of pedestrian border fencing in an unprecedented border surge. But the extreme right will never be satisfied.
I agreed to that amendment so we could move forward and fix a broken system. What I will not accept is using unattainable or manipulable border security triggers as a tool to eviscerate the path to citizenship and the dreams of millions of hard-working people looking to get right with the law. The new amendment allays Republican worries and protects the path to citizenship.
Opponents also used the cost of the bill as an excuse. Even though studies from both conservative and progressive think tanks have proven year after year that immigration reform would grow our economy, opponents keep repeating their mantra that immigrants are an economic drain. Last week the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis showing immigration reform would reduce the budget deficit over the first decade by $197 billion. To the chagrin of immigration reform opponents, the analysis showed the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $700 billion between 2024 and 2033. This a total of almost $1 trillion in deficit reduction.
As the excuses crumble under the weight of facts, it’s clear that the only one left for opponents of immigration reform is fear of extremists, especially in the House, where a right-wing minority holds sway. But they forget that American voters, especially Americans of Hispanic and Asian descent, rejected that extremist vision last year. The House Republican leadership ignores the will of voters at its party's own peril.
So as we enter the final stages of the Senate’s debate, I remind everyone that their involvement will be crucial to success. I will continue to do everything in my power to get immigration reform over the finish line and complete a job that for me started many years ago. But I and my colleagues in both chambers need every bit of help we can get. We need it for Renata’s sake. We need it so one day that hug between mother and daughter can be a true embrace, with both standing on the same side of the border in the country they call home.