Washington won’t get much of a reprieve from verbal pyrotechnics once the drama of the fiscal cliff is over. Up next: major immigration reform. President Obama has made it clear that a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s badly frayed immigration system is a second-term priority. Many Republican lawmakers are convinced the big takeaway from the 2012 election results is that conservatives need to rethink their hard-line stance on immigration—including illegal immigrants.
Here’s what Washington should do before tackling the tough job of rewriting the immigration laws: Create a quicksilver path to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. (excluding the small number convicted of violent crimes or multiple felonies). The shift in status acknowledges that these foreign-born newcomers, like previous generations of immigrants, overcame significant obstacles to come to the U.S. to make a better life for their families. Illegal immigrants are neighbors heading off to work, sending their kids to school, and attending church. Their everyday lives would vastly improve by moving from the shadows of society into the mainstream.