U.S. editorial excerpts.
Selected editorial excerpts from the U.S. press:
IMMIGRATION AND THE CANDIDATES (The New York Times, New York)
Even by the low standards of presidential campaigns, the issue of immigration has been badly served in the 2008 race. Candidates - and by this we mean the Republicans, mostly - have been striking poses and offering prescriptions that sound tough but will solve nothing. They have distorted or disowned their pasts and attacked one another ferociously, but over appearances, not ideas - over who can claim to be the authentic scourge of illegal immigrants, and who is the Lou-Dobbs-Come-Lately.
Voters deserve much better than what these candidates have given them. The Democrats have done better, though they have not always responded with the courage and specifics this difficult issue demands. Before voters pick a candidate and a president, they should insist on serious answers to questions like these:
What should be the role of immigrant labor in our economy? How does the country maximize its benefits and lessen its ill effects? Once the border is fortified, what happens to the 12 million illegal immigrants already here? Should they be expelled or allowed to assimilate? How? What about the companies that hire them?
And what about the future flow of workers? Should the current system of legal immigration, with its chronic backlogs and morbid inefficiencies, be tweaked or trashed? What is the proper role of state and local governments in enforcing immigration laws? And will a national identity card for immigrants bring on Big Brother for everyone?
The first thing to know about the Republicans' immigration debate is that it is not much of a debate. The candidates speak essentially with one voice, calling for a bristling border and stiffer penalties against companies that hire the undocumented. Some call for new instruments of law and order, like tamper-proof ID cards.
There is wide support for stricter enforcement. Not many people favor the underground economy. No one is calling for more immigrants to sneak over the border or to overstay their visas, or for less oversight and looser hiring rules in the workplace. Pretty much every candidate in both parties wants the government to bolster the border - even Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico, who calls the fence ridiculous.
The problem is that the country cannot build a fence or send troops and expect its problems to go away. Huge numbers of illegal immigrants never go anywhere near the border: about 40 percent enter legally and overstay their visas. Nor can the government purge workplaces of illegal workers without doing vast damage to the economy. At some point it must address the 12 million undocumented, who cannot be deported en masse.
Most of the Republicans have no answer for what to do with those 12 million, except to argue for ''attrition through enforcement,'' the hard-liners' strategy of making immigrants' lives miserable and waiting for them to leave. Some of the Republicans have called on the government to identify and track all who overstay their visas, without specifying how to do that or pay for it.
Instead of answering these questions, the Republican candidates have spent their time blasting one another as coddlers of illegal immigrants and supporters of ''amnesty.'' This has proved tricky, however, for the candidates who in previous lives had to deal with immigration in the real world, where immigrant energy and low-end labor - both legal and illegal - tend to bolster economies and make life easier for everyone.
Only two years ago, while governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney spoke favorably of a Senate bill that offered illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Now he says he hates amnesty, condemns Rudolph Giuliani for having been mayor of a ''sanctuary city'' and has accepted endorsements from hard-liners like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who hounds immigrant day laborers as aggressively as he chases headlines.
Mr. Romney still has had a hard time explaining his own connections to illegal immigration. He was caught - twice - having a landscaping company with undocumented workers tend to his lavish property. When pressed on that he got testy. ''Let's say I go to a restaurant,'' he said to reporters. ''Should I make sure that all the waiters there are all legal? How would I do that?''
It is a good question - especially since some 12 percent of the workers in the food service industry are believed to be undocumented - and one we would like Mr. Romney and his fellow candidates to answer seriously.
Mr. Romney is not the only one struggling to reconcile his past policies with his present ambitions. Mr. Giuliani once welcomed undocumented immigrants and sued the federal government to preserve an executive order that shielded them from deportation. Now he links immigration and terrorism in the same breath, and talks of cracking the whip through databases and enforcement schemes with names like BorderStat.
For a while it looked as if Mike Huckabee would be a sensibly contrarian Republican. As governor of Arkansas he supported financial aid for illegal-immigrant students, and when Mr. Romney rebuked him for it in a debate, he scolded right back, ''Our country is better than that, to punish children for what their parents did.'' Then this month he did a stunning backflip, unveiling his ''Secure America Plan,'' which would require the expulsion of all illegal immigrants within 120 days. And last week, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he used the turmoil in Pakistan as an argument for building a border fence, and said the United States needed to watch whether ''there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country.''
The single voice of reason in the Republican camp is Senator John McCain. He was an original sponsor of a comprehensive immigration bill that married enforcement with a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for those who earn it. For this he saw his presidential hopes nearly blown to bits. He is hanging on, though. He was AWOL for a time when the Senate bill was killed last summer, but has since regained his voice. He speaks of immigrants as ''God's children'' and stoutly defends the path to citizenship for the undocumented. Given what he has gone through, his stance is close to heroic.
The Democratic candidates start in a better place, since they and their party are largely on record as firmly supporting the pillars of comprehensive reform. There are no demagogues in their ranks.
But there are timid fumblers, like Senator Hillary Clinton, who first supported then rejected a plan by Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York to let illegal immigrants earn driver's licenses. She was right at first to defend Mr. Spitzer's logic, but wrong to then back away from the firestorm that he ignited. She did not inspire confidence as someone who will have the courage to do what is necessary and right even if it is controversial.
Mrs. Clinton, like Mr. Richardson, Senators John Edwards and Barack Obama, and the rest of the Democratic field, did vigorously support the one piece of legislation that might have led the country out of its immigration morass. That was the ambitious Senate bill that died under a Republican-led assault in June.
The bill was flawed, but it contained the seeds of true reform. It chose assimilation over expulsion for the 12 million. It leveled with Americans by acknowledging that a border fence would never end lawlessness by itself. It grasped a fundamental moral truth that the Republicans - again, with the notable exception of Mr. McCain - have rejected. The truth is this: Americans cannot expect immigrants to serve them - to make their beds and meals, feed their babies and ailing parents, and pick their crops - while living in fear and hopelessness.
One of the strong arguments for passing immigration reform last summer was that it was a last chance. If Congress did not seize it, the presidential race would blot out hopes of reform for two years or more.
Congress did not seize it, and all the problems are still there. The issue has left the country divided, fretful and ambivalent, and voters are yearning for honesty and thoughtfulness. The Republicans are not giving it to them. The Democrats should fill the vacuum. They have said the right things. Amid all the Republican shouting, it would help if they would speak louder.
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|Publication:||Asian Political News|
|Date:||Jan 5, 2008|
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