2007-06-21 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

By Neil S. Friedman

Lady Liberty Laments Immigration Reform Logjam

Immigration reform got a breath of new life when Senate leaders last Friday agreed to revive the measure, which seemed doomed when it was withdrawn a week earlier. It's expected to return to the Senate floor any day now for additional debate. However, the outlook, for what has been dubbed "the grand bargain," is bleak, except in the minds of a few cockeyed optimists. One Senate leader, appearing on a Sunday morning news program, said that "one way or another" consideration of the bill would be done before the upcoming holiday break.

Immigration reform is perhaps more hopeless because the House version will likely be more contentious than the Senate's. As Congress is scheduled to recess for the Fourth of July in two weeks, there's as much chance for immigration reform passing while George Bush is in the White House, as there is for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Unable to drum up support after he recently met with GOP leaders, demonstrates how weakened George W. Bush's presidency has become in his second term.

For months, immigration legislation has generated passionate debate, particularly for provisions giving eventual citizenship, although at a substantial cost, for 12 million illegal immigrants. More than likely, the reform package is headed for legislation limbo - no matter how many amendments Republican opponents try to tack on to it.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it's reasonable to assume that 12 million - more or less - illegal immigrants spread across our nation exact a considerable toll on our social programs. On the other hand, many of them also provide vital, albeit unskilled, services that most Americans avoid like the plague.

Critics contend that the reform bill grants blanket amnesty for those who broke the law, while others patiently follow official guidelines that have been in place for years. Proponents argue the compromise legislation is neither perfect, nor is it a general amnesty. But for millions of hardworking immigrants - regardless of their status - already here do not deserve to be unequivocally expelled, so the bill features several practical prerequisites that they would have to fulfill before they can become eligible for legalization status.

The compromise requires illegal workers to pay a substantial fine to register. Only after they undergo extensive background checks, pay back taxes, learn English and have proof of steady employment, will they be eligible. It is a logical beginning to a problem that for too long has overwhelmed the nation's social services. It also provides for the decent treatment of immigrants, many who have contributed to Social Security, but may never get that money back, and their families.

One crucial aspect of immigration reform is its mandate for stricter border security, which has not been adequately fortified since 9/11, and should be a wholly separate matter. One amendment allocates more than $4 billion for upgrading border security and enforcement of the immigration law, which has been conveniently sidestepped since Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to a couple of million illegals 20 years ago.

One thing those opposed to the immigration compromise refuse to admit - or simply disregard - is that there wouldn't be as many illegal immigrants as there are now if there wasn't employment to support their humble lifestyles. And nationwide unemployment is currently at its lowest level ever. They didn't just come here for the fun of it. They came to toil at the tens of thousands of jobs available. Jobs that most Americans wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

Why doesn't the government take legal action against employers who hire them? Aren't they also breaking the laws for which there should substantial fines for each illegal immigrant hired?

But that ain't never gonna happen because it would cause havoc to the nation's economy.

Naturally, a large contingent of businesses that employ illegals, including hotel, construction, health care industries, farmers and ranchers, plus the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have urged representatives to reform the immigration system.

Besides, does anyone comprehend how complicated and costly it would be to locate and send more than 10 million people back to where they came from? Or the astronomical outlay to send many of them to jail for a minimum of 60 days?

If we still can't come up with a reasonable strategy in Iraq, how the heck are we gonna pull off the deportation or incarceration of so many illegal immigrants?

Above and beyond the humane aspect, some support for immigration reform is politically motivated because the Hispanic population is an emerging national voting bloc that can't be ignored. Politicians counting on those votes in 2008 know that an overwhelming majority of illegals are of Hispanic heritage.

It is imperative for Congress and the president to enact sensible immigration reform that not only corrects past mistakes and endorse feasible regulations for the future, but also that reflects our historic compassion for immigrants but also represents sound economic policy.

If immigration reform is not legislated, picture this: You glance at upper New York Harbor in the wee hours of the morning and you see the Statue of Liberty weeping because America no longer welcomes the tired, the poor or huddled masses yearning to be free. She's ashamed America no longer wants the homeless, tempest-tossed. The lamp, which serves as a beacon of freedom, beside the golden door is beginning to flicker - and is in danger of being doused.

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