Political and economic realities might finally win out in the debate over immigration reform.
The economic realities are that more than 11 million people in this country illegally are not going to "self-deport." Many businesses, particularly in agriculture, need a reliable and economically sound way to hire temporary workers. Others need highly skilled people who are being pushed away by our current system. Employers need a system they can count on to verify employees' legal status.
The political reality is that President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November's election, and the Republican Party's future will be diminished if it doesn't address the concerns of those voters, especially when it comes to immigration reform.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina once again is on the front lines of this issue, and South Carolinians should get behind him.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
"I want border security, I want a temporary-worker program, and I want employer verification so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past," Graham said.
Those mistakes include knee-jerk reactions to the idea of a path to citizenship for undocumented workers already here, even one as rigorous as laid out Monday by Graham and seven other Republican and Democratic senators. The plan would require a clean police record, paying fines and taxes, learning English and going to the back of the line to earn citizenship. The process could take more than a decade and doesn't warrant an "amnesty" label.
Glenn McCall of Rock Hill, one of three South Carolina members of the Republican National Committee, told McClatchy Newspapers that he regrets his opposition to reform efforts in 2007.
"In retrospect, that was the wrong thing for me to do and the right thing to do for Sen. Graham," McCall said. "I opposed it out of ignorance, for one. I was thinking it was full-fledged amnesty. That's where I've matured. I've gotten past the emotions to look at what's best for the country and what's best for this (Hispanic) community."
Randy Page of Lexington, who was a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention and sat on its platform committee, told McClatchy, "I freely admit that I was ... very shrill against any type of reform. I've changed from that in the past few months. The election results had a good bit to do with it, along with listening to Sens. (Marco) Rubio and Graham talk about the need for reform and how we need to come together."
The participation of Rubio, a conservative favorite, in the bipartisan effort to come up with comprehensive reform is a boon to Graham, and he knows it. It provides him much-needed political cover.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona warned Republicans on Wednesday that failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform could mean continued election losses. Republicans, he said, have failed to see the importance of immigration issues to Hispanic voters.
The bipartisan plan and President Barack's praise don't mean disagreements are at an end. We'll see fights over what constitutes border security and how tightly it should be bound to a path to citizenship. Some will say we only need to enforce current law.
But the current system isn't working. Millions of people are here illegally, many of them vulnerable to economic and other types of exploitation. Young people brought here illegally, who had no say in the matter and know no other country, face a bleak future with truncated opportunties. Businesses can't get the workers they need when they need them.
We must act, and as Graham notes, this opportunity might slip away if we don't do it now.