Asked about the comprehensive, complex and controversial immigration reform bill that was finally introduced in the U.S. Senate the other day, Utah's senior senator said exactly the right thing.
"I want to support it," Sen. Orrin Hatch told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I believe it is long overdue."
Wanting to support something and actually voting for it are, of course, very different things. But Hatch's willingness to work toward a final version of the plan put forward in the wee hours by the so-called Gang of Eight is a good sign.
Certainly better than the views expressed by Hatch's Senate colleague, Mike Lee, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. They are among the lawmakers sticking to the belief that fixes to the nation's broken immigration system should be made piecemeal, and should not include a path to legal residency or citizenship for the 11 million human beings who live, work, pay taxes, raise children and die without benefit of legal status.
Hatch is part of a smaller, also bipartisan, group of senators who have hammered out a plan aimed at matching the needs of farmers and other food production businesses with the needs of the foreign farm workers they hire. That deal, tentatively folded into the larger reform package, would allow more visas for guest agricultural workers even as it pushes for wage levels that would mitigate any downward pressure on pay that could accompany an influx of legal guest workers.
Like the larger plan, Hatch's farm labor proposal would provide a pathway to legal status for workers who meet various requirements. Creating such a path is the only humane and practical approach to the issue, even though it is apparently a deal-killer for Lee, Chaffetz and others.
The overall reform plan also calls for spending billions on improved border security, tougher requirements for employers to verify the legal status of their employees, "biometric" green cards for legal immigrants, an improved tracking of visitors, workers and students who overstay their visas and rules that allow naturalized citizens and permanent legal residents to bring in more spouses, young children and parents, but fewer adult children or siblings.
The proposed path to citizenship would hardly be a walk in the garden, as it could take up to 13 years and involve fines and back taxes.
There is much room for negotiation and compromise in this bill. But there is no call for filibusters, poison pill amendments or other threats to delay the process unto death.
It is time for a new immigration system, and the one now before the Senate is good enough to go though the process with all deliberate speed.