The Senate will be continuing their debate on comprehensive immigration reform legislation this week. One of the most contentious parts of the new bill is a change that would value the education and work experience of potential immigrants over family ties to those who are already U.S. citizens. Democrats are pushing to give family relationships a higher priority, but if this happens Republicans worry that this could break the fragile bipartisan coalition that supports this bill. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said that senators who are looking to change the bill should ask themselves, “Will this make the bipartisan coalition crumble?”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and others are proposing that the old family based rules still be applied to hundreds of thousands of people who are currently waiting in line for green cards. Specifically, he wants to allow 833,000 who applied for permanent legal status at the beginning of the year to get green cards based only on their family connections inside the U.S. The current proposed legislation would force everybody who applied for legal status after May 2005 to the back of the line. This effort has attracted the support of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Chris Dodd. Republicans Chuck Hegel and John Cornyn have also announced their support for Menendez’s measure.

The potential agreement here is that Republicans would loosen up the requirements in exchange for a tougher rule forcing immigrants to return home before they can get their green card. This is another one of those hurdles that could break apart the bipartisan coalition that supports this bill, because I don’t think anyone wants to be seen as antifamily. If the Democrats really decided to push it, they could probably break the coalition that supports this bill. I, personally, am not very comfortable with an immigration bill that stresses education and skills over the family unit.

Whether supporters want to admit it or not, this bill really is about creating a path to legalization for the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. We can always find a way to recruit skilled workers into the country, but families can form a generational foundation for good citizenship. At the end of the day, this debate comes down to what is more important, education or family. It seems hypocritical to me that so many of these Republicans that campaign on family values are so eager to break up families, and in a very un-American way, close the doors of freedom and opportunity on almost a million people. If you want to change the rules for future applicants, that’s fine, but you shouldn’t penalize those who are already in line. It is simply a matter of fairness, and doing what is right.

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  Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at
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