Monday, January 28, 2013

Let's Respect Senate's Talk on Illegals

Being in the middle is a lot harder than being an extremist.

Take today's announced compromise regarding immigration reform.  An elite group of eight powerful senators - evenly split between parties - has proposed the framework for legislation that claims to strengthen border security, penalize employers who hire undocumented workers, and provide a citizenship pathway for illegals who meet certain criteria.

Considering how much I preach compromise, I'm pleased to see that four senators from each party were willing to sit down and negotiate illegal immigration calmly and diplomatically, even if Republicans, smarting from their election defeats this past November, are obviously the most desperate and vulnerable in this discussion.

This is still very early in the proposed compromise, and plenty of critics have already rendered their judgement on it, even as its official language is still in the draft stage.  For example, it's not hard to see why foes of amnesty - including me - are suspicious of the GOP's newfound urgency on this topic.  Tackling immigration reform with an eye towards the disproportionate number of Hispanics comprising that demographic risks corrupting any possible solution as racist propaganda.

Both by Republicans eager to build bridges to Hispanics, and those of us wary of further destabilizing our nation's sovereignty.

We have proof from Ronald Reagan's stab at it that amnesty doesn't work to inhibit illegal immigration.  It only grandfathers-in proven lawbreakers, and even deprives those illegal workers of the one value they have in an employer's eyes:  being illegal, they can be hired below the government's radar, which means immunity from work safety and fair wage laws.  So amnesty, politically, is as much an attempt at wooing votes as a logical approach to treating people with dignity.  After all, treating illegal immigrants with dignity is what many amnesty-averse people like me are accused of not doing.  But if we look at illegal immigration as a broader sociological phenomenon, with implications that extend beyond economics and politics to morality and sustainable justice, any bill our legislature passes that disproportionately relies on amnesty will be short-sighted at best.

Still, who knows if this latest compromise will grow legs and make any headway in Congress?  Perhaps it's far too early to tell how significant today's announcement is, but in the interest of bipartisanship, it's at least a step in the right direction.  That we should do nothing about the current state of immigration affairs - and illegal immigration affairs - is a far more difficult and morally objectionable argument to make.  Unequivocally dismissing today's proposal as being dead in the water is simply unhelpful.  Treating it as a viable starting point leaves the door open for some sort of progress.  And progress usually can only continue with participation.

Realistically, it's probably unlikely that any form of amnesty will be absent from any final version of legislation overhauling immigration.  As it is in almost any policy issue, the political will is too weak - likely on both sides of the aisle - to face all the hard facts.  But as long as politicians are talking, it will be easier for us to advocate for what we think will work best.

Suspending automatic deportations - something I've suggested in earlier essays - is one of the components of this new plan, and represents an area where conservatives have yielded on the "illegal immigration is illegal" mantra.  Being willing to give and take to find our overall common ground could help us determine some sort of system for accommodating children who've been brought to this country illegally by their parents, since even though the Bible talks about "the sins of the fathers," it could be argued that we should have had a more comprehensive process to deal with illegals years ago, before all these kids grew up here.  And, most definitely, we'll need to deploy stronger enforcement of employment laws already on our books, and stiffer penalties for non-compliant employers.

Along the way, perhaps we'll be able to remind the illegal Hispanics in our midst that they're not the only people group anxious for participating in America's way of life.  They just had an easier time breaching our borders because of the land bridge that is our Western Hemisphere.

The laws we'll be drafting will apply to people who want to come here from impoverished countries all over the globe.  That will be civil rights in action, without regard to country of origin.

Indeed, you can still find the American ethic in this debate if you look for it!

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