By Ann Morse
President Obama invited a wide range of stakeholders to the White House on Tuesday as the U.S. Senate took up S.744, the first comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate has considered since 2007. The Senate, in a strong showing of bipartisan support, voted 82-15 to proceed. If enacted, this would be the first overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws since 1986.
At the event in the White House East Room were two of NCSL’s legislative leaders, Senator Mo Denis (D), majority leader of Nevada, and Senator Curt Bramble (R), Senate president pro tem of Utah, who serve on NCSL’s Task Force on Immigration and the States. The Senators were accompanied by NCSL immigration policy staff Sheri Steisel and Ann Morse.
“Fixing the nation’s broken immigration system is an economic, national security, and moral imperative,” said Obama. “Now, this bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. And going forward, nobody is going to get everything that they want - not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But this is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles that I and the people on this stage have laid out for common-sense reform.”
While there are state concerns that need to be addressed in the final legislation, Denis and Bramble stressed that the current immigration system is broken, and that action at the federal level is long overdue.
“Now is the time for the country to come together and for members of both the House and Senate to be statesmen,” said Bramble. “This is a challenge of our time, and doing nothing is simply no longer an option.”
Denis concurred: “I have been tremendously impressed by some on both sides of the aisle here in Washington that have been working together to get this important legislation passed.”
Also participating in the event was former Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua, the first Hmong state legislator in the country. Moua is now executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. She applauded the work of NCSL, and the leadership of senators Bramble and Denis in working across the aisle to advance immigration reform.
A number of Cabinet secretaries were in attendance, notably Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Commerce Secretary-nominee Penny Pritzker and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Speaking with the Attorney General after the event, Bramble took the opportunity to reiterate Utah’s case for a federal waiver providing legal recognition of immigrant workers (part of Utah’s immigration reform law of 2011).
Others invited to the event included business and labor leaders, Republican and Democratic elected officials, law enforcement officers and faith and civil rights leaders.
Ann Morse is the director of NCSL’s Immigrant Policy Project, and works in NCSL’s Washington, D.C. office.