President Bush famously said that "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." For him, a love of family was an important common bond between Mexican and American culture. But the fate of his immigration reform now rests on whether he can partner with Republican Senator John Kyl to persuade Congress to replace the U.S.'s decades-old system of family-based immigration in favor of a skill-based program. At least two-thirds of the more than 30 million legal immigrants to the U.S. since 1965 have been allowed in because they were related to legal residents; Kyl wants a system that chooses high- and low-skilled workers according to economic demand and limits those who can come with them to spouses and minor children. In exchange for Bush's commitment to that reform, Kyl and his allies would break with many of their fellow Republicans and back de facto amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Conservatives are angry that amnesty is on the table. On the other side, Latino, Asian and Catholic groups have been lobbying Democrats furiously, arguing that families provide a social safety net, a built-in acculturation system and job and language training that the government--and taxpayers--would otherwise have to fund. Their champion in the Senate is Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, which is why Kyl and Kennedy have been meeting in back rooms of the Capitol to haggle over a point-based system in which both skills and family ties would count to an applicant's advantage. But under any scenario, siblings, parents and adult children would lose their automatic ticket in. Which means that if Bush gets the immigration reform he wants this summer, family values won't stop at the Rio Grande, but they will have competition getting across.