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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Editorials

Better immigration law threatened by fantasies

Published:

Skeptical conservatives can find in the Senate's immigration reform bill ample objections and uncertainties to justify stonewalling the legislation until it dies.

That seems to be what House Speaker John Boehner has in mind when he says he will only bring up a bill that has been pre-approved by most of his fellow House Republicans, many of whom are holding out for changes they know are impossible to pass. The Senate passed immigration reform legislation Thursday 68-32, with 14 Republicans backing the measure.

The question today is what is better, the existing immigration mess or the Senate's serious attempt to set up a merit system for new foreign workers, secure the border and deal fairly with the 11 million or so immigrants now in the country illegally. This is not a hard question.

If Congress can't make improvements, things will stay as they are. That's really very much like amnesty, points out Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican from Miami who has been unafraid to take a leading role in the divisive debate.

Leaving an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the legal shadows, without hope for citizenship no matter how qualified for it they may be, is un-American. Talk of sending them home is fantasy. Having so large a population of non-citizens undermines the rule of law, erodes public confidence in Congress, and hurts the economy.

And tough talk and no action have cost the Republican Party many Hispanic voters who support conservative values.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped write the Senate bill, explained that "it's hard to sell your economic agenda if they think you're going to deport their grandmother."

In reality, no one is either trying to deport grandmother or give her quick amnesty.

The path to becoming a U.S. citizen outlined in the bill would be 13 years long and a far cry from the blanket forgiveness critics say it is. It includes requirements to learn the English language, and Rubio was right to heighten that language hurdle.

New citizens should be able to pass a simple proficiency test, as Rubio stressed. The ability to communicate in English accelerates a new citizen's assimilation into U.S. culture, greatly improves job prospects, and discourages the rise of ethnically segregated neighborhoods where English is not spoken at all.

But the language issue is a minor point compared with the dispute over border security, especially the border with Mexico. The Senate bill would double the number of border agents and give them the barriers and surveillance tools they need.

That's not enough to satisfy many of the bill's critics. They say there's no guarantee that future Congresses would continue paying for such tight enforcement, nor is there a guarantee that the numbers of illegal immigrants would decline no matter how many walls are built. How could there be guarantees, except in a fantasy world?

The Senate bill does contain a few quirky distractions. It requires that a new "independent" agency, in investigating which areas of the country need more immigrant workers, always find a shortage of labor in the Alaskan seafood industry.

That's petty politics at work, but of no real importance to most of the country.

What's important are the major provisions: improving border security, finding out who has overstayed their visas, requiring employers to check the legal status of applicants, welcoming adequate numbers of skilled and unskilled foreign workers in the industries that desperately need them, and acknowledging that the peaceful and hard-working immigrants who have made homes here for years are not going back to their homelands.

No, everyone is not going to agree on all of this. But let's do agree on democratic, majority rule. Our representatives in the House should be given a chance to vote.

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