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Good start on reform.

Byline: The Register-Guard

There is much to like - and nearly as much to dislike - in the immigration reform compromise reached by U.S. Senate negotiators last week.

That there is a proposed deal at all is a political miracle. Senators and the Bush administration faced the seemingly impossible challenge of trying to replace a dysfunctional system with one that satisfies the American workplace's voracious appetite for immigrant labor, that draws 12 million illegal immigrants out of the legal shadows, and that creates a workable, enforceable legal framework while protecting the fundamental rights of newcomers.

Negotiators crafted a proposal that attempts with varying degrees of success to meet those criteria. While clearly preferable to the chaotic status quo, the bill should be regarded as a work in progress.

The cornerstone of the proposal is a plan to give "Z visas" to most illegal immigrants. The visas would allow them to live and work openly in the United States and, if they qualify and choose to do so, embark on a rigorous and lengthy path to legal residency and citizenship.

The visa program is the bill's most promising feature, although it needs tweaking. It would allow any undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before 2007 to obtain tentative legal status if they fill out applications and pass criminal background checks. They could qualify for longer-term Z visas if they pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees, pass English and civics tests, and document a history of continuous employment.

A major problem is the visa plan's requirement that heads of households must return to their countries of origin before they are eligible to receive green cards. This "touchback" requirement is both unrealistic and unnecessary, and should be eliminated.

The visa plan is based on a complex point system that gives job skills and education priority over family unification, historically the primary consideration for entry. While some adjustments are desirable, the goal of reuniting families should not be relegated to secondary importance, even in the interest of obtaining more skilled workers.

The bill includes a guest worker program that would allow immigrants to renew two-year stays no more than twice, with a one-year wait between. This requirement also would impose hardships on families and would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to enforce. Such a guest worker program would almost certainly evolve into a new conduit for illegal immigration.

The proposal also includes concessions to the "What-part-of-illegal-don't-you-understand?" crowd: 18,000 new border guards and a 370-mile border fence that would be completed before the bill's other provisions can be implemented. Given the huge investments in border security in recent decades, it's doubtful if these new measures would have an appreciable effect on curtailing illegal immigration.

Despite the bill's many shortcomings, it hopefully will provide a framework for debate in Congress - and, eventually, the meaningful reform of this country's broken immigration system.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; But immigration deal needs major changes
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 22, 2007
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