Immigration reform: Substance over politics

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The following editorial appeared in The Miami Herald on Wednesday, May 10:

Last week’s nationwide boycott and rallies took center stage in the immigration debate. But real action still awaits in the U.S. Senate. The outcome will depend on the goodwill of lawmakers who want to craft policy that benefits this nation, and not just create an issue with which to trump political rivals in November elections.

Political maneuvers over procedures stalled the compromise immigration bill last month. But the full Senate may resume discussions as soon as next Monday with an eye to voting on the bill before Memorial Day.

Meantime, no one should forget why Congress and Americans nationwide are involved in this debate: Our current immigration system doesn’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t have 12 million undocumented immigrants living in our county, millions of others waiting years to immigrate legally and national-security concerns about who might slip through our borders.

Legislation that doesn’t tackle all of these concerns won’t solve the immigration problems and could, in fact, make matters worse. A good example of such misguided policy is the enforcement-only Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House last year. This Draconian bill provided inspiration for the recent pro-immigration protests and voter-registration drives that are gearing up nationwide.

Ultimately, the Senate would do best to focus on reforms that will ensure the orderly and secure entry of immigrants and provide enough workers to power the U.S. economy. Realistic entry quotas and a legalization plan for undocumented immigrants would go a long way to making U.S. immigration laws enforceable and freeing law-enforcement to focus on real threats to U.S. security.

It is unrealistic to think that millions of undocumented immigrants will return to their homelands. If they did, sectors of the U.S. economy would be crippled. Just think of the number of construction workers who failed to report to work when rumors of deportation raids ran rampant in South Florida two weeks ago.

The Senate compromise bill contains good elements of all the needed reforms. It also includes some objectionable provisions that should be removed. For example, judicial review of immigration decisions, which is critical to correcting mistakes and preventing abuses of power, should not be curtailed.

Whatever the Senate approves, the final result hinges on negotiations with the House, which will bring unreasonable measures to the table. The bill that comes out of that conference needs to provide realistic fixes for a broken system. Anything less should be rejected. Then Congress must answer to voters, including the many newcomers registering to vote before November.

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