Earlier this year, Congress missed an extraordinary opportunity to fix this nation's broken immigration system after the U.S. Senate approved a comprehensive reform bill. The legislation addressed the nation's economic and national security needs by toughening border enforcement, while also providing for an expanded guest worker program and the possibility of legal residency for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already in this country.
Sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the Senate bill was a massive improvement over a mean-spirited and unrealistic House bill that relied exclusively on border controls, criminal sanctions and deportation.
The Senate reformers made an extensive effort to persuade House Republicans to negotiate a compromise, and recently have even said they are willing to consider legislation that would require a secure border before a guest worker plan could be put in place. But House leaders have refused to budge from their enforcement-only approach, choosing instead to stage a summer-long series of fear-mongering hearings intended to stoke anti-immigrant fervor and delay legislative action until after the fall elections.
The House leadership's refusal to negotiate with the Senate on reform has been irresponsible. An estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants cross this country's southern border each year, and that flow could soon increase given the current political instability in Mexico.
President Bush, who favors the Senate's comprehensive approach, might have spent what remains of his dwindling political capital to force House Republicans to negotiate a compromise. But he has been distracted by the deteriorating war in Iraq and other Middle East developments, and his low standing in the polls has prompted Republican lawmakers to distance themselves from the president and his immigration agenda in the critical weeks before the mid-term election.
After the election, there's hope that House Republicans can stop their posturing and summon the courage and statesmanship necessary to make meaningful immigration reform a reality.
If they don't, Americans will know who to blame.
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