Friday, May 13, 2011

Immigration reform: restoring sizzle to a priority

After languishing almost lifeless in the White House shadows for most of the past two years, immigration reform is being moved back into the national spotlight by President Obama in hopes his sudden bump in public popularity and supportive new opinion polls will put heat on Congress to deal with an agonizing problem.

The president is making speeches. congressional Democrats are reintroducing the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that would legalize undocumented students with certain conditions. A Pew Research Center poll shows 72 percent of Americans favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants if they pay fines, have jobs and pass background checks. Among "staunch Republicans," 49 percent also support citizenship.

Meetings in the White House with congressmen, Hispanic leaders and media also have been used to garner support.

However, Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain who once championed reform but turned against it under political pressure, are making impossible demands. He won't go for reform until the border with Mexico is "secured." Presumably that means zero illegal crossings. Other Republicans want the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to return home and apply for re-entry. This is sheer madness.

Meanwhile, various states are hashing together their own versions of immigration enforcement laws that preempt federal powers. The National Conference of State Legislatures found that 46 states and the District of Colombia passed 346 such measures in 2010. Some laws require hospitals, schools and police to question the status of persons who may appear to be illegals. Think racial profiling.

Reform would end the twilight zone lives of 11 million undocumented immigrants who've become part of the national culture and work force. Employers, too, would be relieved of the overbearing costs of screening job applicants for citizenship status and the unrelenting fear of being prosecuted for mistakenly hiring illegals.

The costs of avoiding sensible reform, meanwhile, are being driven up into billions of dollars—in hiring thousands of new Border Patrol agents and buying new border enforcement technology, in local state enforcement costs, in time spent by state lawmakers piecing together legislation that is headed for costly court fights.

Arizona, for example, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism and convention business because of boycotts since enacting its punitive and ethnic-anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070.

Politically, Republicans stand to again lose Hispanic votes in 2012, while President Obama's reform fight will reap a windfall.

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