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Consensus on Immigration Reform? These Students Think It's Possible

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GSPM Student Jalakoi Solomon co-authored this piece

America is a nation of immigrants, whose hard work and determination have created the most prosperous and free nation in the history of mankind. Our country's diversity is a key component of our society and innovative economy. That is why it is so important for our elected officials to get the politics right and address the pressing issue of immigration reform.

Last summer immigration reform was at the forefront of the public consciousness. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that took a comprehensive look at the immigration system. While discussions about how to alter current policy are happening in the House, the legislative path forward looks unclear.

Whether a final plan emerges from the House or not, immigration reform has broad public support. Americans agree it is time for action, but are looking to its leaders to resolve the remaining conflicts.

Our students at the Graduate School of Political Management, the first and foremost school of applied politics, sought to find a way forward during class last week. From a coalition plan to a whip count, students were tasked with working through the ins and outs of creating a plausible, passable, and budget positive immigration reform proposal, while also selecting a credible messenger for their plans.

Five diverse groups, varied in party identification, gender, race, and even country of origin, focused on the complex task at hand.

The saying goes ask five people what they think on a topic and you'll get five different responses and that was the case here. Each group took a different approach to tackling immigration reform while considering policy positions from all sides. While each proposal was unique, there were two aspects upon which all groups agreed: an immigration bill must include increased security for the border with Mexico as well as a path to legalization for current immigrants who already call the United States their home.

That common core led to several different strategies.

One group chose to present a single comprehensive bill that would provide additional funding to securing our borders and focused on a path to legalization. They recommended creating a process by which the undocumented could earn permanent status by "going through security background checks, paying back taxes as well as penalties for breaking the law, and learning English." They also suggested increasing legal immigration channels, such as temporary work programs and more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) visas. Their approach was to create more areas of policy agreement, making their proposal more appealing to both the left and the right in order to garner support in both the House and Senate.

Two other groups decided to divide the larger agreement into multiple smaller bills that would be easier to pass through both chambers of Congress. Pulling from the previous bill passed in the Senate, these groups focused on border security, immigrant visas, interior enforcement, reforms to nonimmigrant visa programs, and jobs.

The final groups used a different legislative tactic to approach this issue. These teams framed their ideas as an economic stimulus measure, rather than presenting it as an immigration bill.

One presented a jobs bill that focused on boosting the available workforce. It proposed making E-Verify, a web-based federal program that checks a worker's I-9 employment eligibility form against U.S. government records, mandatory nationwide and provided work visas for skilled and un-skilled laborers. Jobs and the economy are the heart of this bill, pulling in conservative support, and the measure provides a stepping-stone to comprehensive reform, which would appeal to progressives.

During class discussions after the presentations, we came to the consensus that passing immigration reform is both a realistic and economically advantageous solution.

Members of Congress need to find a way to meet in the middle, or at least create trade-offs to arrive at a plan that's better than the current, broken system. Our diverse groups ran into policy differences; however, at GSPM we are learning that politics trumps policy and that by staying open minded and by working together we can become powerful agents of change.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).

Jalakoi G. Solomon is a William and Mary graduate who currently works in the Human Resources Department for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)*. She is currently in her second semester in the Political Management program at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the FBI.