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Originally published Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Immigration reform is moral, humane and inclusive

We need to push together for immigration reform because our state stands to benefit enormously, writes guest columnist Pramila Jayapal.

Special to The Times


IMMIGRATION reform catapulted to the top of the federal legislative agenda this week, with clear stakes placed in the ground by President Obama himself and by a significant and bipartisan group of senators.

On Monday, a “Gang of Eight” senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — released a framework for reform that outlined four legislative pillars, the most significant of which was legalization and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Yes, the proposed path is long and contingent on some vague notion of border security that could render it meaningless. But the simple fact that both sides agreed on a path to citizenship means there is a place to start making it workable, humane and inclusive.

Momentum has been building since the 2012 election, when Latinos and Asian Americans delivered millions of voters and key states for Obama, and the lowest percentages of votes for Republicans ever. Since then, Republicans have been backpedaling on harsh anti-immigrant language, while Democrats have strengthened their resolve.

President Obama gave a speech in Las Vegas laying out his own principles for immigration reform and threatening to force a vote if Congress did not move quickly. He reminded everyone that this is not about “us versus them” because “most of us used to be them.”

He has made clear that any path to citizenship must be clear and direct, and his written outline includes same-sex couples in immigration reform.

The growing consensus on immigration could bring a bill into committee as early as March and a vote to the full Senate by early summer. The House would follow, and Republican Majority Leader John Boehner would need to ignore the diminishing power of anti-immigrant members if he wants to save the future of the GOP.

In Washington state, our Republican Congress members should rush to get on board. U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert of Auburn and Doc Hastings of Pasco both voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. This round of immigration reform gives them a chance to right their wrongs this round.

If Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wants to rise in the GOP leadership ranks, she too will have to help get her colleagues to support immigration reform.

Washington stands to benefit enormously from immigration reform. Legalizing and providing a path to citizenship for the approximately 240,000 undocumented Washingtonians levels the playing field for all workers, eliminates a two-tiered wage system and provides needed workers for our industries.

Among those who would benefit are about 50,000 undocumented DREAMers, young people who were brought here as children.

Some may have qualified for temporary legal status as a result of Obama’s executive action last year, but all are still looking to escape limbo.

Thousands of legal immigrant high-tech workers and their spouses, graduate students and researchers could continue injecting creativity and skills into our universities, research centers and businesses.

Washington’s large population of legal immigrant residents and U.S. citizens, particularly from the Philippines, India, China and Mexico, deserve immediate relief too after endless waiting to bring their family members to America.

In a state where progressives, labor unions and immigrants banded together to legalize gay marriage, we need to use that infrastructure and energy to bring about another vote for love — one that keeps all our families together, living with dignity and grace.

As newly liberated immigrants start to breathe and put down roots, daring to buy houses and cars and plan their futures without fear that it will be snatched from them, Washington’s economy will grow. Our communities will finally be able to recognize that immigrants are us and that we all share the same dreams of stability and a better future. Together, we can create a community and an economy that serves all of us.

We have a real opportunity now — morally and legislatively. Let’s not squander it.

Pramila Jayapal is a Distinguished Taconic Fellow at the Center for Community Change and a Distinguished Fellow at the University of Washington Law School.