Last week, Jamelle (who is a friend of this blog and a friend of mine, and who you should totally hire) wrote:

At present, the Senate is actually working on an immigration bill. And as the Prospect’s Gabriel Arana details, the Schumer-Graham blueprint for immigration reform is a problematic and half-hearted attempt that doesn’t actually address the underlying issues. Given the high likelihood that Democrats will demand a bipartisan bill, it is critical that activists and allies jump into the debate as soon as possible, in order to move it towards something far more reasonable — and far more just — than biometric cards and deportations.

Just to be clear, the “blueprint” Jamelle and Gabriel are talking about is this op-ed from Schumer and Graham which appeared in the Washington Post. Even if it doesn’t advance terribly far as a bill in this Congress, it’s entirely plausible that any immigration reform legislation introduced in the next few years would resemble this framework — and there’s certainly no reason to believe it would look like something with which Jamelle and Gabriel would be happier. But I don’t find it to be nearly as “problematic and half-hearted” as they do. Here’s why.

First of all, it’s clear that the “blueprint” isn’t a complete account of what would appear in a bill for comprehensive immigration reform. There’s a passing reference to a guest-worker program, but no detailed treatment of how reform would control future labor flows — an element that everyone from President Obama to Secretary Napolitano to the senators themselves has agreed would be a fundamental component of reform. (Napolitano presented a really useful way to look at reform when she spoke at CAP last fall — she called it a “three-legged stool,” with increased security and enforcement; adjustment of future flows; and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants each serving as one leg.) Presumably, Schumer and Graham skimped on future flow details in the Post because business and labor groups are still trying to hammer out an agreement on the issue. Such an agreement may very well be less than progressives would hope for, but a sketchy treatment of the question in the Schumer-Graham blueprint should be read as a “TBD” (To Be Determined) rather than a “NBD” (No Big Deal).

Similarly, it seems reasonable to assume that some elements of the bill would be left out of an 800-word WaPo column. It’s hard to imagine a bill that legalizes 11 million people without appropriating more funds to Citizenship and Immigration Services to do it (though it’s certainly not impossible), for example, and reducing the family backlog for visas has been mentioned as an Administration priority and may well be included in legislation.

Fundamentally, though, it seems to me that Jamelle and Gabriel give short shrift to the bill’s central provision: this framework is designed to bring the 11 million people currently living in this country without documents out of the shadows, to end the fear and uncertainty in which they live day to day, and that is no small feat.

I admit that it’s hard to see that as the central provision reading over the framework, at least as it’s drafted in the Post — the framing is cautious, centrist, and security-focused, with flashy but untested proposals such as a national biometric ID. I can understand how this sounds alien to progressives, and irrelevant to, or even at odds with, the humanitarian goal of legalizing the undocumented. But let’s face it: comprehensive immigration reform has not been a progressive priority for the last few years, let alone a Democratic priority. Instead, the politicians pushing the issue have been a coalition of progressives like Ted Kennedy (and now, for example, Rep. Luis Gutierrez), who see the need to legalize the undocumented, and conservatives like George W. Bush (and now, presumably, Graham) who seek the Hispanic vote for the GOP — and who view border security as a national-security issue, but understand that we can’t really secure the border without changing how we determine who we let in.

The public, for its part, mostly figures the current system to be broken and supports policies that would “fix” it — including legalization of undocumented residents on one hand, and stricter enforcement measures on the other. Since the 63% of people supporting legalization of undocumented residents seem to be doing so out of a pragmatic desire to produce effective immigration policy, it seems perfectly logical that Schumer and Graham would see that as their political opening.

I think the concern that the security frame will overwhelm legalization has some validity. After health care, I certainly wouldn’t be so naive as to say that reasonable politicians in general (and Senate Democrats in particular) have a surefire ability to control political narratives. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with working to tweak the substance of the bill to be a little more humane and a little less “tough.” But as Jamelle and other progressives finally turn their attention to immigration reform as a priority, I hope they’ll be smart enough — and honest enough — to look past a frame they wouldn’t have chosen and see a goal they, too, desperately want to achieve.

Permadisclaimer: my opinions about immigration politics and policy are entirely my own and are in no way associated with my employer or any other organization. Likewise, my taste in music is entirely my own and is in no way associated with the proprietor of this blog, though I suspect I’ll be seeing him at the 9:30 Club next month to see this man perform.

Dara Lind

Dara Lind