June 6, 2016

A New Strategy for Immigration Reform?

No one disputes that the United States’ immigration system is broken. Ideas for reform—ranging from ideological to bipartisan—have been endlessly debated in Congress for over a decade now. In a glimmer of hope, the Senate did pass a bipartisan compromise bill in 2013, but the House failed to act.

Maybe the November elections will bring enough new faces and new ideas that immigration reform can re-emerge in 2017. I certainly hope so, but I keep thinking that another election won’t be enough to break this logjam, because previous so-called historic elections didn’t bring us change.

It’s time to try something totally different. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said before a graduating class at Oglethorpe University, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Fundamentally, we might need to take the management and control of the issue out of the Beltway, because Washington has proven incapable of compromise. It is just too partisan a place. So if the immigration issue won’t be fixed at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, who outside of the Nation’s Capital can? Who can break the gridlock and establish genuine bipartisan consensus that forces the combatants in Congress to finally embrace a reasonable and defensible compromise on immigration? I believe the time has come where we might want to look to current and former state governors as potential arbiters of this crisis.

The majority of America’s governors support some version of comprehensive immigration reform. As statewide elected executives, they are more popular than most members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Governors have authority over many of the things that members of Congress care about in their home states and thus have special powers of persuasion. Moreover, governors know how to get things done. They are problem-solvers who are usually pragmatic and comfortable working across the aisle. Furthermore, governors are deeply engaged with the sectors of their state economies and public services most affected by this issue, including public education, public safety, technology, healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture.

America’s governors may be the ideal leaders to create a new dynamic that pushes immigration reform forward.

I would like to see an initiative wherein a group of current and former governors, of both parties and from all regions, would assemble quietly to take on immigration reform. With the help of think tanks and policy experts they trust, they can develop a new proposal that solves the problems that partisan stalemate in Congress has caused in their states. If a consensus can be reached, the “Governors’ Immigration Reform Bill” could be publicly presented and serve as the template for a new effort in Washington, with the governors shifting from policy developers to advocates for action. A well-funded national campaign featuring the governors and the new solution-oriented proposal they’ve built could give members of Congress the cover they need to confront the partisan do-nothings in their own parties.

The Western Growers Association is willing to partner with its allies in agriculture and other industries, such as technology, to help provide the funding and infrastructure to support a working group of governors.

I would be short-sighted to preclude the possibility of a Congressional-led immigration reform effort in the near future. As we have done in the past, we will be engaged and fight for any legislation that solves our chronically-ignored problem. Judging by the past, however, it would certainly be prudent to pursue a parallel strategy. I suspect if he were alive today, FDR would admonish us: Above all, try something.