With a president who has embraced comprehensive immigration reform and with a Democratic majority in Congress, this nation should be well on its way toward fixing this country's fractured immigration system.
That hasn't happened. And it won't happen unless President Bush and congressional Democrats stop playing politics and get serious about meaningful reform.
The president took a wobbly first step Monday during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, where he outlined his latest immigration proposal: a mix of tough border enforcement measures and the possibility of legal status for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
Bush called for a "serious and civil and conclusive debate" over his plan, which has five elements: border security, a temporary guest worker program, sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegals, what Bush termed a "practical solution" on legalization that stops short of amnesty or deportation, and requirements that immigrants learn English and American history.
But the real test of any immigration proposal is in the details - and so far the details of the president's plan indicate he is more interested in placating his party's large flock of immigration hawks than producing sensible reform. They include charging immigrants $3,500 for work visas, allowing undocumented workers permanent residency only after they return home and pay a $10,000 fine, and barring visa holders' families from the United States.
Bureaucratic barriers. Prohibitive fines and fees. Broken families. These are not the building blocks of a balanced and rational immigration policy. They're new ways to punish illegal immigrants and to perpetuate an underground system in which undocumented workers live in fear, misery and a constant state of exploitation.
So far, Congress has done no better than the White House at pursuing immigration reform. The Democratic leadership, reluctant to offend labor unions that fear an influx of wage-suppressing immigrant workers, has been reluctant to stir the immigration pot.
Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have introduced a bipartisan bill in the House. But it contains some of the same flaws as the Bush plan, including a laughably impractical requirement that illegal immigrants leave this country before applying for U.S. residency.
It's time for the White House and Congress to get serious about changing the intolerable status quo and creating proportional, workable immigration reform plan - one that combines border security and workplace enforcement with protection of workers' rights and a path to citizenship for immigrants willing to earn it.
For Democrats, it's an opportunity to show they were serious about ending the bitter partisanship that prompted voters to give them majorities in Congress last fall. For the president, it's an opportunity, perhaps his last, to bolster his sadly deficient domestic policy legacy.
The challenge is complex and daunting. But it can be met with boldness, courage and vision. The clock is ticking on the Bush administration, and the time to act is now.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; Bush, Congress must stop playing politics|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Apr 11, 2007|
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