Just before the general election, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, authorization to build a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. Was that a sign Washington is getting "tough" on illegal immigration? Or just election-year show business?
Here's a hint: Congress authorized the wall but didn't pay for it.
Americans were not impressed. Trying to look tough on immigration didn't help the Republicans keep control of Congress. "Nobody believes we really need 700 miles of fence," Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., told the Fort Myers News-Press recently. "But it felt good to do it, so it happened.
"The problem with the debate over immigration is that it's been dominated by show-business politics and feel-good gestures. Nobody in Washington really believes that a partial wall across the border will stop the flow of illegals, or that the 12 million or so illegal immigrants already here will turn around and leave because of an act of Congress.
So this year, perhaps, it is time to get real about immigration. Getting real would include a comprehensive immigration reform that would do several things: Step up border security, get tough on employers who hire illegal immigrants, create an adequate guest-worker program, and give those illegal immigrants who are already here an achievable path to legal status and, eventually, citizenship.
"We need effective immigration enforcement to be sure, but unless it happens within the context of a functioning legal immigration system, it only serves to make a bad situation worse," Frank Sherry, director of the National Immigration Forum, said. "We cannot simply deport our way out of the current immigration mess, nor should we want to.
"Let's commit to making 2007 the turning point," he added. "Let's have [this] year be the moment of truth in which those political leaders committed to leading marginalize those politicians more interested in dividing.
"The good news is that, with the general election behind us, there does appear to be a genuinely bipartisan effort in Congress to devise a realistic immigration reform bill. The bad news is that the "window of opportunity" for reform seems very limited. Contenders for the 2008 elections are already preparing to hit the campaign trail, and when the presidential race begins in earnest this year, the temptation to posture on immigration reform, to revert to show business rather than governance, will become irresistible.
President Bush seems to understand that show business won't solve America's immigration problems. To the extent that he can make common cause with the Democrats to work out a sensible, realistic reform bill, before the political season heats up, America will be better off for it.
For a link to the editorial click HERE.