Immigration reform has long been an issue that carries significant political implications, finding the path to citizenship for some 12 million undocumented immigrants who work in the country. An immigration forum was held at Rice's Baker Institute, with former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security. He says border security remains a critical component of the debate.
"So as we look strategically, at how to develop a policy to ensure control of the flow of workers from outside the country, we have to look not only at the perimeter, not only at the land, we have to look at the sea, we have to look at the air, we have to look at those who cross without permission and those who come in with permission and don't leave."
The fate of immigration reform could now rest with House Republicans, who have all but rejected the bipartisan Senate legislation. Governor Barbour says the House and Senate need to stay on a course that benefits both parties and the economy.
"If you want to get economic growth back up to four percent in our country, we've got to have more labor. If you want to keep our country healthy and I don't mean that purely medically, but we don't want to become an aging population like Japan or like Germany, or like Spain or so many other countries that are literally losing population, and that is a fiscal time bomb."
Secretary Cisneros says the country has spent some 30 years trying to get it right with immigration reform.
"The Senate has laid out some measures which may or may not be acceptable to the House. So we need to explore where the touch points, where the improvements that can be made in the legalization process. And finally, the importance of a path to citizenship, a process by which people who choose to be citizens of this country, and who can do so without displacing anyone else who's in the line before them."
The Senate immigration bill that passed last month, takes a comprehensive approach that removes the threat of immediate deportation for most undocumented immigrants, and provides a path to legal status and eventual citizenship.