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Editorial: Encouraging sign on immigration

Ted Kennedy failed. So did John McCain and George W. Bush. All sought comprehensive reform of broken federal immigration laws that starve business of needed talent, disrupt families and force some 12 million undocumented U.S. residents to live in fear in the shadows. This year, President Obama has made reform of the system a priority and, despite a Congress famed for its fractious ineffectiveness, he could succeed. If he does, it will be with the help of groups like Americans By Choice, a new advocacy organization founded by the son of Irish immigrants, Fergus Cullen, a former state Republican Party chairman.

The Monitor has long supported a reform of immigration laws that give law-abiding immigrants in this country illegally a pathway to legal residency and eventual citizenship. We applaud Cullen for stepping up, and Manchester immigration lawyer George Bruno, a former state Democratic Party chairman, for joining him. The immigration issue has divided Americans, disrupted lives and bedeviled politicians for decades. At times it’s seemed insolvable. But the bipartisanship shown by Cullen, Bruno and members of both political parties who have joined the group’s board could set an example for others, in and out of Congress, to follow.

On the group’s website, Americans-by-Choice.org, Cullen describes the group as “center-right,” a label we presume he attached to reassure Republicans who might reflexively reject any organization that favors an agenda that might include anything that could be seen as amnesty for illegal immigrants. For his part, Bruno refers to the organization as “centrist” and “an issue on which both parties can agree.” He’s right.

The forces favoring passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill are finally aligning. Some of them are noble: uniting families and expanding on the history of America as a refuge for the oppressed, a magnet for the enterprising, and an ideal that transcends national origin.

Some of the forces pushing toward reform are practical. Crops should not rot in the field for want of workers to harvest them. High-tech jobs shouldn’t go unfilled because quotas prevent companies from hiring imported talent. Cullen points to the example of Marian Noronha, a native of India who arrived in the United States in 1977 with $6. He is now the founder and president of Turbocam, a manufacturing company in Barrington that employees 550 people, including 325 in New Hampshire, where he plans to expand his workforce by an additional 200. When an immigrant comes to America to work and remains to open a business, Bill Gates famously noted, it creates jobs here instead of more overseas competition.

Some of the reasons are financial. The United States spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2011, more than the combined budgets of the FBI, Secret Service and every other federal law enforcement agency. That year the Obama administration deported 396,000 people. Last year, the total was 410,000. And thanks to increased enforcement and a slow economy, more illegal immigrants are now leaving the United States than entering. Border security has tightened, paving the way for revising immigration policy.

More than a little of the renewed interest in immigration reform on the part of Republicans is the result of demographics. Hispanics are the fastest growing portion of the population, and they overwhelmingly voted Democratic in the last election. Republican hostility to immigration reform and rhetoric like presidential contender Mitt Romney’s advice to “self-deport” spells doom at the polls. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, is trying to persuade members of his party to back changes in immigration law that may not prove to be all that different than the ones Obama is expected to propose.

We urge Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte to follow the lead of Cullen and Bruno: join forces to prove that with bipartisan cooperation reform is possible.

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