Q & A with Immigration Reform Advocate Frank Sharry

Frank Sharry discusses with TIME how the momentum for immigration reform can be stopped, and how the President and Gang of Eight differ in their plans for reform.

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REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Ana Castro, a member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, chants after President Barack Obama's speech on immigration inside La Plaza United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California January 29, 2013.

Frank Sharry is the founder and executive director of America’s Voice, a group which seeks a path to citizenship for immigrants and their families.   Before America’s Voice, Sharry served as the executive director of the National Immigration Forum  for 17 years.
The Senate’s Gang of Eight put forth a framework for immigration reform.  Are you pleased by what was introduced? What else should have been included?

The bipartisan Senate framework represents centrist, common sense approach to immigration reform.  It combines three key, interactive elements: a roadmap to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants; enforcement aimed at reducing illegal entry and illegal hiring; and reforms to our legal immigration system so that in the future immigrants go through the system rather than around it.  Done well and done together, these elements will result in an immigration system that is orderly and humane.  Immigrants settled here will be legally here and able to work their way towards citizenship; employers will be compelled to hire only those here legally; and immigrants arriving in the future will only be able to get work if they are here legally.  While there are questions how some of these elements will be detailed in legislation, the key aspects of workable and humane reform are present and have drawn strong bipartisan support.  That gives considerable momentum to the legislative process and gives rise to considerable optimism that it can get done in 2013.

How much daylight is there between the Gang of Eight framework and the President’s plan espoused in Las Vegas?

Not much.  Both share the same elements and both are premised on the idea that the combination of a path to citizenship, improvements to the legal immigration system and targeted enforcement efforts will turn a dysfunctional system into a legal and orderly one.  The President’s plan, however, is more detailed and better on some issues.  For example, he is clear that the path to citizenship for those who qualify should not be easy, but it should be clear, timely and straightforward.  This is in response to concerns regarding that the Senate plan conditions the path to citizenship in ways that might lead to delays of many decades for those aspiring to be citizens.

President Obama said that the “The differences are dwindling,” between the right and left on immigration, and Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Rubio’s efforts to enact reform “admirable and noteworthy.” What can now prevent an immigration bill from being signed into law?

We are thrilled by the momentum and support immigration reform is gaining from across the country and across the political spectrum.  Polling shows the American people support it.  The 2012 elections showed that Republicans need it.  The President’s speech today shows that Democrats want it.  But we shouldn’t underestimate the controversial nature of the immigration debate.  It tends to generate a lot of heat (and more heat than light) and hard line opponents in the GOP will undoubtedly try to demagogue and defeat reform.  The good news, from my perspective, is that these voices are increasingly marginalized.  It seems the American people are ready for a solution and both parties, for their respective reasons, seem poised to deliver it.