OUR OPINION: Don't let new immigration bill die of neglect
The U.S. House today restarts the immigration debate with a bipartisan bill that would increase security while allowing people to come here and work under tightly controlled circumstances.
It also would allow those here illegally since before last summer to eventually become citizens if they pay fines, pass background checks and learn English.
People on both sides of the contentious immigration issue will find things in the bill they don't like. But it is a reasonable attempt to craft a practical solution to one of this nation's most vexing problems.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., discussing the bill last week with the Tucson Citizen Editorial Board, said it isn't perfect, and he doesn't philosophically agree with all of it.
But it does make substantial and needed improvements in this nation's immigration policies.
This is a bill that will be argued over and tinkered with as it grinds through the political process. And while that is to be expected, the window for success is brief.
If comprehensive immigration reform is not passed by late summer, the 2008 presidential and congressional elections will muddy the waters. Elections prevented Congress from passing reform last year.
The bill to be introduced today is sponsored by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. The two had worked with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., hoping to introduce a joint bill, before striking out on their own.
Border security is first step in process
The bill starts with tough border security that involves technology, not fences. It includes workplace enforcement so employers have a quick, secure way to check on the legality of potential employees.
Until those security measures are in place, nothing else would happen. That makes sense so other parts of the program are not built on shifting sands.
A "new worker" program would allow people to come here and work if an employer certifies that no American worker can be found.
Such a program is essential. It would greatly reduce the number of people entering the country illegally, allowing the Border Patrol to focus on criminals.
And it will make it unnecessary for desperate people seeking work to trek through the unforgiving Southwestern deserts, where hundreds die each year.
Finally, it will provide a viable work force for jobs that now go unfilled because there simply aren't enough people in the country legally to fill all of them.
The most controversial provision would allow people who entered the United States illegally before June 1, 2006, to eventually becomes U.S. citizens.
Path to citizenship would be extensive
But this is not blanket amnesty. It is a process that could take 11 years and would subject potential citizens to the most extensive review ever.
There would be $2,000 fines and in-depth background checks. Applicants would be required to pay taxes and learn English.
They also would be required to leave the country and return to the United States legally at least once during the process. They would have to stay out of the country only long enough to have papers stamped.
And they wouldn't have to return home. Mexicans living in the northeast, for example, could comply by going to Canada instead of making the trek home.
From a practical standpoint, this seems trivial. But some see it as an admission of wrongdoing. If it helps to win passage of the bill, it's a minor inconvenience.
The security of this nation is compromised by our broken immigration system. This bill would fix many of those problems. It should be seriously debated and moved through the congressional process.
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