The midterm elections sent candidates a pay-on-delivery package of demands. Resolving the Iraq war and sanitizing congressional ethics topped the list. Immigration hysteria did not.
In 12 of 15 races dominated by the illegal immigration debate, moderate candidates won. Just two immigration hard-liners prevailed, according to www.immigration2006.org, which followed the issue.
What Americans demand, according to their votes and polls taken during election week, are reason and realism. U.S. immigration policy consists of encouraging thousands of Latin America's most daring and desperate workers to risk their lives seeking U.S. jobs. Once they arrive, they pay with a fearful, subterranean existence in which they are exploited and barred from fully contributing to the community.
Most Americans want no part of this devil's bargain. In the elections, they also rejected extremists who demonized the workers themselves.
Here's what voters did want: comprehensive reform that works. According to a Tarrance Group survey just before the election, 57 percent of likely voters preferred candidates who backed comprehensive reform. The voters also wanted fair procedures for determining who may seek citizenship here. Sixty-eight percent said that should include paying a fine, paying taxes, having a clean record and learning English.
These voters also want a manageable immigration policy now. Fewer than one in three called immigration "extremely" important in his voting choice, one exit poll showed. Yet 75 percent said they wanted Congress to enact comprehensive reform next year, not later.
That reform has to include:
• Rationally planned border security (a 700-mile fence diverting migrants elsewhere doesn't qualify).
• Expanding legal work opportunities for the thousands of foreign workers employers want to hire.
• Drawing all illegal immigrants already here into the legal and social mainstream.
• Actively developing the economies of the poor countries from which those workers come.
This last step is the most complex, and most important. Our unregulated subculture of low-income workers ultimately weakens the home countries they support. As a recent Chronicle story showed, remittances can stunt economic growth and work ethics in poor countries that depend on them. America's importation of low-wage, disenfranchised workers who have no prospects at home reflects failed systems on both sides of the border.
Voters now have said it plainly: Only comprehensive, rational reform can start to fix this.
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