Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Time to Reform Immigration" from The Daily Herald (Utah)

Now that the fun and games of the election are over, would it be too much to ask Congress to finally pass immigration reform?

It appeared poised to do something this year, but the House and Senate deadlocked on a final bill. The House version stressed strict border enforcement and penalties for those who sneak into the country, while the Senate plan, which contained a border security element, also proposed ways for illegal immigrants already in the country to obtain citizenship after paying fines and back taxes.

Congress then adjourned for the summer, with House Republicans promising to conduct meetings to "listen" to what Americans had to say on the issue, as if there hasn't been enough discussion already. The only bill that's moved so far is one authorizing the construction of a dubious 700-mile border fence for $2.2 billion.

Ducking the immigration issue was an act of political cowardice. From a congressman's point of view, passing an immigration bill that did not address citizenship or guest workers would have cost him the Hispanic vote, while providing a path to citizenship for those already here would alienate another large bloc of voters. Doing nothing, therefore, was the safest political route to take, as a lawmaker could say he tried to fix the problem, but his colleagues were obstinate.

But we don't send men and women to Congress to plot safe political courses. We send them there to run the country and deal with the important issues. Immigration reform is one of those issues that won't go away if we ignore it long enough. The solution will only become more politically charged.

The post-election period is the ideal time to tackle this issue. There's no rush to get back home and campaign for votes. Those who lost their re-election bids have nothing left to lose at this point, while the rest have at least two years before they will face voters, enough time for most of the public to think rationally about the matter.

With the election past, officials should step off the path of least resistance and do what is right. That means getting beyond bumper-sticker slogans and finding a comprehensive solution.

Securing the border is an important step but it is not the only one. As long as there are companies that continue to seek out illegal immigrants, an incentive will always exist to cross the border, regardless what barricades are erected. The dishonest companies that hire illegal workers should be punished severely. At the same time, a functional guest worker program is needed for farmers and others who need laborers.

There are the estimated 11-20 million illegal immigrants already within our borders. Rounding them up and shipping them home is impractical as well as harmful to our economy. They have been invited here by business; government has knowingly looked the other way for many decades. It is fair, therefore, that many families that have worked, obeyed the law and paid taxes ought to be considered de facto American citizens.

We'd like to see the 109th Congress go down in history as the body that enacted comprehensive immigration reform.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A6. For a link to the piece click here.

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