Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good News/Bad News

A real effort at immigration reform has been simmering on the back burner while the Obama administration addressed more pressing needs: the economy and health care reform. Now Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, believes it's time to move the issue to the front, preferably next year. She cites some pretty good reasons for that.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The government has beefed up border security and workplace immigration enforcement, and now should begin the work of overhauling immigration laws, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday.

"The hope is that when we get into the first part of 2010, that we will see legislation begin to move," Napolitano said. The legislation should not only give law enforcement officials more tools to fight illegal immigration but create a "tough pathway" for undocumented workers to gain legal status, she said. ...

She said the "tough pathway" to legal status would require illegal immigrants to register, pay a fine, pass a criminal background check, pay all taxes and learn English.

Critics responded that immigration reform was code for a blanket amnesty, and that the strides Napolitano cited in enforcement were overstated.

While I agree that enforcement efforts haven't been totally effective -- traditional border crossings at the Mexican-US border have been better policed, but many would-be immigrants are chancing the far more dangerous routes through the desert --there certainly has been a decrease in the flow. The Obama administration has also shifted the target from the undocumented worker to the companies that employ them, handing out fines to employers who were particularly sloppy in complying with the laws currently on the books, but there are still plenty of businesses looking the other way when bogus social security and green cards are presented.

That said, I think Secretary Napolitano, who knows about the subject of immigration from her days as governor of Arizona, has suggested an interesting and a positive way of dealing with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants already here. If the "illegal" has been here for years, worked hard, paid taxes, and not engaged in criminal behavior, why not give them a way to change their status?

The path Ms. Napolitano has suggested is certainly not an easy one for those who wish to stay, and her plan can hardly be equated with "blanket amnesty." Critics such as Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs who don't want any brown people from Mexico, Central, and South America soiling our nation know this is the case, but would rather appeal to the baser instincts of the electorate.

The argument that those here without an invitation have already broken the law is a specious one. People who have fudged on their income tax returns when it comes to deductions have also broken the law, several in fact since the returns are signed under penalty of perjury. I don't see any mass round-ups of citizen-felons. Only those who engage in really egregious fraud get nailed for tax evasion.

The argument that this is the wrong time to explore such reform, either because the economy is still ailing and unemployment is high or the midterm elections are so close, is also wrong-headed. True immigration reform is long overdue. The fact that the Secretary of Homeland Security was allowed to make such an announcement is strong evidence that President Obama fully intends to push for good legislation on the issue and to do so in 2010.

Members of Congress standing for re-election in the midterms need not fear dealing with the issue, as at least one leader for immigration reform has noted:

Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said, "Candidates who stand up for rational, comprehensive solutions to this complex problem don't lose races."

I think he's right.

I also think that President Obama is going to have to do a much better job in openly pushing for such a "rational, comprehensive solution" than he has for health care reform. Whether he's going to do so is still a large unknown.



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