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Immigration reform: Congress, Obama, and public are not so far apart

Both the bipartisan Senate plan and President Obama's proposal on immigration reform – which he's expected to mention in his State of the Union address tonight – show how Republican and Democrats aren’t as far apart on policy as politics might have us believe.

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President Obama reaches out to shake hands after giving his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on Jan. 24, 2012. Mr. Obama will center his address tonight on job creation and economic growth, also touching on immigration reform. Op-ed contributor Mary Giolvagnoli says the Obama and bipartisan Senate plans on immigration reform 'chart a way to bring lawmakers together – particularly on the pivotal issue of citizenship.'

Susan Walsh/AP/file

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In spite of some disagreement among lawmakers on the best path forward, momentum for US immigration reform continues to grow – and is moving in one clear direction. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a framework for reform a few weeks ago, and shortly thereafter President Obama announced his own policy push on immigration, which he is expected to touch upon again in his State of the Union address Tuesday. In the House, a range of ideas are being floated, but a bipartisan bill is expected to emerge soon.

Both the Senate and White House proposals are remarkable for what they share, particularly with respect to providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. And despite some important differences, they are even more remarkable for establishing a united front on what kinds of solutions are seen as reasonable and politically viable in the coming debate over immigration reform.

In short, the two plans, particularly the Senate proposal, show how policymakers aren’t as far apart on policy as politics might have us believe. And they chart a way to bring lawmakers together – particularly on the pivotal issue of citizenship.

House Republican leaders are already struggling to find a way to distinguish themselves from these proposals without sounding too extreme, but their tentative forays into a “no citizenship for the undocumented” proposal are likely to place them outside the mainstream of the debate – and public opinion.

At the core of both the White House and Senate proposals is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States today. Both proposals also include border reform, updating the legal immigration system and reducing current backlogs, and expanding employment-based visas to include more green cards for high-skilled workers.

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