Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Providence Journal in Rhode Island.
Just when you thought no simmering American problem could be solved in a pragmatic way, out comes an elegant proposal for immigration reform that seems to understand it all.
Written by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the plan goes right where the doomed legislation of 2007 went wrong. The public correctly saw that bill as just another amnesty being sold on the promise of enforcement in the future - an impression hardened by the Bush administration's refusal to discipline employers of illegal labor.
The Schumer-Graham proposal rests on four pillars, two of which address the matter of enforcement. The first would require every hire to present a Social Security card containing a unique biometric marker (such as an iris scan or fingerprint). A secure Social Security card would ease compliance for law-abiding employers while ending excuses for the rogues.
The second pillar would not only beef up border patrols but the all-important interior enforcement. That's another way of saying that employers would face heavy fines and jail time for repeatedly breaking the law.
The third pillar would create a program for admitting temporary workers. (The details here will matter a great deal.) And for those already here illegally, the fourth would build a "path to legalization," involving fines and payment of back taxes.
Actually, there's a fifth pillar - an immigration policy that favors the skilled workers our economy needs.
For example, "green cards" could be given to foreigners who obtain a PhD or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university. This makes sense.
The time has never been riper for immigration reform. This is not 2007, when jobs were plentiful. With a national unemployment rate pushing 10 percent, open-border advocates can't cry about a labor shortage or argue that "immigrants do work Americans won't do" - to which they should have added, "at the pathetic wages we're paying."
To succeed, the proposal's backers must boost confidence that Washington really intends to shut down the conveyor belt of illegal immigration. President Barack Obama has already laid the groundwork by ordering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to audit employee records and fine companies found to hire illegal aliens. This and the weak economy have already combined to reduce illegal immigration.
But never underestimate the power of various interest groups to stymie reforms that broad majorities support. The Chamber of Commerce, a fan of cheap labor, has responded coldly to the proposal. And Latino groups have criticized the administration's current program of going through company records - the centerpiece of any serious enforcement.
Immigrant advocates recently complained to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about continuing deportations and the arrests of 20 immigrants at a Maryland restaurant. Napolitano, whose department oversees ICE, responded that the policies will continue.
Then there are the Tea Party folk, who are very much against illegal immigration but also against "big government." The latter would presumably include a counterfeit-proof Social Security card that would double as a national ID. These two views are contradictory.
So here we have a fine proposal for immigration reform coming at the perfect time. Obama is on board and asking for more Republican sponsors.
How about some volunteers?