Mr. Schumer, with an uncharacteristic lack of fanfare, threw his support behind immigration reforms in front of a group of Irish advocates in February. Mrs. Clinton joined the fray in a much more conspicuous setting, applauding the principles of the McCain-Kennedy proposal in front of a large rally earlier this week.
The judiciary committee has the task of crafting a compromise between several competing reform ideas. On the one hand, members will have a proposal put forward by Senators Cornyn and Kyl that focuses on enforcement, although it also creates a guest worker program. On the other hand is the McCain-Kennedy proposal, which would expand opportunities for legal immigration by increasing the number of available visas while also offering a path to legality for the illegal immigrants - who now number 12 million - already living in America.
Although derided by critics as an "amnesty," the McCain-Kennedy proposal would exact a punishment, in the form of a $2,000 fine and a lengthy application period, and then allow the lawbreakers to move on with their lives.
The best solution would be to combine the two in a way that would allow opportunities for entry to the legal immigrants the American economy needs, that would allow illegals, the vast majority of whom are gainfully employed, to come out of the shadows, and that would provide adequate border security. In respect of immigration reform, the House has provided an example of what not to do, passing last year an immigration reform measure that obsessed over enforcement to the exclusion of sanity.
Yet as the House took up the issue and then the debate shifted to the Senate, New York's senators had been pussyfooting around.
Mr. Schumer took a tentative step into the open in February in front of 1,000 Irish immigrants in Queens. Mrs. Clinton went further than her colleague this week, telling a cheering crowd of Irish immigrants in Washington that she would support "a path to earned citizenship for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar for becoming a citizen." She castigated the House bill, which she called "a rebuke to what America stands for."
Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Clinton deserve credit for lending their support to reform, even if they're more than a few days late. New York is an under-populated state in which immigrants are vital to communities and the economy. Without an influx of immigrants, New York would have suffered a population decline of 519,000 in the 2000 census, according to a 2003 study by the Public Policy Institute of New York State.
Senators Schumer and Clinton were moved to action primarily by pressure from Irish immigrant groups, a bit odd considering that this week's study from the Pew Hispanic Forum noted that Europeans in general account for only 6% of the 12 million illegal immigrants in America.
Nonetheless, the Irish have a long history of successful immigration, building new lives for themselves and this city for all of us in the process. No matter who has inspired New York's senators to cast their lot with meaningful immigration reform, it's good to see that Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Clinton are finally on board.