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Another View -- George Bruno and Enrique Mesa: President Obama offers a smart, workable plan for immigration reform

January 31. 2013 8:50PM

President Obama's second term is but weeks old and his "to do" list is growing: reducing gun violence, managing the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration, raising the debt ceiling to pay the nation's bills, and now following his major address in Nevada this week, comprehensive immigration reform and dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

Given the shifting national demographics and abundant head scratching following the huge GOP losses in 2012 elections, now is the right time for reform. Immigration reform is a monumental undertaking, which requires both parties to work together to remedy our broken immigration system. President Obama's plan for immigration reform is similar to the bipartisan Senate blueprint presented days earlier. Both plans focus on a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants along with overhauling major parts of our broken immigration system. As both parties warn, the United States is losing talent and professionals to other countries because of our antiquated restrictions.

The President's approach loosens outdated country quotas, promises to make the sluggish immigration system more efficient, calls on employers to verify that workers are in the U.S. legally, promotes family unity, and opens the field for investors and innovators to have less arduous entry to the U.S. These steps are good for America. They make us more competitive in the global economy and renew America's promise as the land of opportunity and protector of human rights.

To open a pathway to citizenship, both plans call for background checks, payment of a penalty and back taxes, learning English, and getting in back of the line to obtain residency. Both plans estimate it will take eight years before new applicants will achieve permanent residency and another five years for citizenship. Using the "back of the line" model, there are visas pending since 1992. Unless this system is fixed, the estimated eight-year wait could be much longer.

The GOP and the President differ on enforcement. Since 2008, President Obama has deported about 1.5 million immigrants, about half of whom were dangerous criminals, which is more than under the administrations of President Clinton and Bush combined. Unfortunately, some want to make the pathway to citizenship contingent on further border security. In other words, if the legislation is passed with this language, even if the undocumented immigrant has passed all the requirements to become a resident, the immigrant will have to wait until the border is sealed. Basically, the immigrant's future is being held hostage.

How realistic is this? The border cannot ever be 100 percent sealed off, despite unlimited use of surveillance drones, the National Guard, a 20-foot high concrete fence and more boarder guards. Fortunately, the flow of illegal immigration north is now reversed thanks to the use of stepped up enforcement and increased opportunity in Mexico. It is particularly curious to listen to some conservatives call for reduced spending while at the same time press for more money for drones, a 2,000-mile fence, a militarized border and a ramped up deportation machine, when current enforcement is working.

Here's a note to the GOP: if it wants to revive its image and win back the Latino vote, it needs to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform without insurmountable hoops. Surely, the GOP does not want to be seen as stalling here as the 2014 elections approach. Ultimately, this proposed legislation will not only strengthen existing enforcement, but will offer 11 million undocumented hopefuls a share of the American Dream. It could actually happen this time.

George Bruno is a former U.S. ambassador to Belize and founding member of "Americans by Choice," Enrique Mesa is an immigration reform activist who was just named to the Union Leader's "40 Under Forty" list. Both are attorneys with LawServe, a Manchester-based immigration law firm.

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