Friday, April 21, 2006

When Spring Break Is Over

The Senate will be back in session shortly, and one of the issues Senator Frist will have to deal with is immigration reform. Hopefully he and Senator Reid will leave off the sniping long enough to get something sensible done, now that the hornet's nest has been roused. While the issue is a complicated and tricky one, there simply has to be a practical solution, even if not a complete one.

The problem is that it's an election year, and Congress Critters will all be more interested in garnering votes than working on an actual solution. I believe that Representatives Sensenbrenner and Tancredo had the upcoming election in mind when they rammed through that foul House Bill in December. What those two gentlemen did not have in mind, however, is that millions of immigrants would actually get excited enough to become very, very visible over the issue. As a result, Frist and Reid are not going to be able ignore the House Bill in the hope it would just be forgotten.

I was pleasantly surprised that an editorialist at the Chicago Tribune (not a newspaper I am particularly fond of right now) was thinking along the same lines.

On several occasions over the last few decades, Americans have debated what to do about illegal immigration. What's different about this year's debate is that it includes a lot of non-Americans. The surprise element has been a wave of huge demonstrations across the country by illegal immigrants themselves.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of protesters has clearly given the issue more prominence than it had before. It has also stimulated strong reactions. Some radio hosts and commentators have criticized demonstrators for brandishing flags from Mexico and for missing school to demonstrate. Others praise them for peacefully dramatizing the nation's dependence on undocumented workers.

The marches may have also had an impact on Capitol Hill. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill mandating a variety of strict enforcement measures, from building a 700-mile-long wall on the Mexican border to making it a felony to be in the United States illegally. Shortly after the first protests, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that was far more generous than the House proposal, dropping the criminal penalties and creating a guest-worker program to let some foreigners come and go legally.

But it's easy to overstate the effect of the protests. The Senate was never likely to embrace the House bill. And the rallies have probably strengthened pre-existing opinions more than they have changed minds.

... But there appears to be a public consensus in favor of three things: more resources to secure our southern frontier, a procedure offering legalization to some illegal immigrants, and serious penalties to discourage employers from hiring people who are not entitled to be here. Americans are realistic, recognizing both the serious risks caused by porous borders and the impossibility of deporting or incarcerating 12 million illegal immigrants.
[Emphasis added]

If senators listened at all to their constituents while on Spring Break, they probably heard much the same thing the Trib has described. Hopefully, they listened closely enough to come back with a sense of how to accomplish something sensible and humane.


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