Thursday, April 06, 2006

Immigration Reform? Or Business as Usual

Reuters has the highlights
Senate leaders on Thursday announced a bipartisan compromise on an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, giving some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and creating a temporary worker program.

"I think we're looking like we may be able to dance this afternoon," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, appeared with Reid and said "We have a great opportunity to deliver to the American people what they expect, what they deserve," a comprehensive border security and immigration reform bill.

The deal, which would include a temporary worker program backed by President George W. Bush, would allow illegal immigrants who have been in the United States more than five years a chance to become citizens if they meet a series of requirements and paid a fine. Other rules would apply to people in the country less than five years.

"We still have obstacles ahead," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who helped lead the debate. McCain cited some pending amendments that could gut the compromise as well as eventual negotiations with the House of Representatives, which passed a much harsher bill that concentrated only on border security and enforcement of immigration laws.

McCain said Bush supports the compromise. Bush was expected to make a statement shortly.

The Senate compromise would give illegal immigrants who had been in the United States less than five years but more than two years a chance to obtain a temporary work visa. They would have to leave the country and reapply to come back. Those who had been in the country less than two years would not be legalized.
There's the temptation to make the perfect the enemy of the good in situations like this. Reasonable Immigration Zealots from both extremes of the debate will decry this deal, for sure. Nonetheless, the bill appears to meet the needs of the principal constituencies.

The illegal aliens that have resided here the longest, and whose lives have become the most immeshed in American living, have an opportunity to become regularized. Those that have lived for some time have an opportunity to at least secure work visas, while the most recent may face deportation.

There are some legitimate questions this bill, as summarized by Reuters, does not answer:

1) Exactly what new security measures have been authorized to secure the border. Does the Border Patrol get a hefty budget increase for personnel? Will the DHS rely on technology alone?

2)How will the US address the need to promote economic and political reform in Mexico? Is Vincente Fox an effective partner in such an endeavor? How can the US help reduce the economic incentives for Central American and Mexican emigrants to enter the US illegally?

3)How will the US reform the dysfunctional quota system that perpetuates illegal entry? What responsibilities do businesses now bear for ensuring that their employees are legally entitled to work and live in the US? What consequences will employers face should they not meet these responsibilities?

4)How, exactly, will ICE deport those illegal immigrants that have resided in the US for less than two years? Is that a fair arrangement, considering the lackluster enforcement of the borders and the incentives to cross encouraged by Wall Street and small businesses throughout the US?

The biggest question of all, however, is whether or not the House and Senate can reconcile their contrasting bills. And when.

Still, this bill shows more promise than previous efforts. It balances justice for the immigrant with the needs of the common Good. It demands respect for the Rule of Law and American Sovereignty while offering mercy to those that breached these conventions. It provides the structure that can bring some sanity to the chaotic and insane border/immigration situation that currently exists.

Let's hope the most significant provisions of this bill survives the upcoming House-Senate conferencing.