Lean times make reform easier on immigration

Another effort to restructure U.S. immigration law will be made next year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week.
Laying out the administration’s bottom line for the New York Times, Ms. Napolitano said officials would argue for a “three-legged stool” that includes tougher enforcement laws against illegal immigrants and employers who hire them and a streamlined system for legal immigration, as well as a “tough and fair pathway to earned legal status.”
To have the best chance of passing a comprehensive measure, an all-out effort to make it bipartisan should be made.
Sen. Charles E. Schu-mer, New York Democrat, is working with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, and others in the GOP, to put a bill together that both parties can support. As President George W. Bush proposed immigration reforms that jibe with those backed by President Barack Obama, that should be possible.
The highest hurdle to surmount will be a way to give legal status to the estimated 12 million illegals who have been in the country for years, have jobs, families, homes, pay taxes and obey all of the laws but one. The administration plan calls for a path to citizenship for them if they first register, pay fines, prove they have paid their taxes, can pass a criminal background check and learn English.
That was the essense of the Bush approach, which eventually was shot down by his own party.
Since then, the Border Patrol has grown by 20,000, more than 600 miles of border fence have been built and efforts to apprehend illegals and punish those who employ them have increased.
Sec. Napolitano wants to continue in those directions. She argues that national security will be better served if a new system for legal immigration is put in place and “a tough, but fair pathway to earned legal status” is created. Doing so would make it possible to crack down on new illegal immigration.
“Let me emphasize this: we will never have fully effective law en-forcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows,” she said.
Offering those who “have earned legal status” — a fancy way of saying those who have been here a long time, are self-supporting, tax-paying and law-abiding — would recruit them into the mainstream and make it far easier to police the borders and deport new illegals.
Taking this course would give American workers better protection against competition from new illegals who work for lower wages and can be cheated by ex-ploitive employers be-cause they are afraid of being turned over to officials.

PRESIDENT BUSH’S reasonable reforms fail-ed because his administration, and Bill Clinton’s before his, had let the borders become por-ous and had done next to nothing to punish those who gave illegals jobs that paid far more than they could earn at home. Those lessons have been learned. Due to the general recession and outright depression in the construction industry, in addition to much strong-er border security, illegal immigration has slowed dramatically.
It couldn’t be a better time to tackle the challenge anew. Demand for foreign workers is as low as it has been in a generation, so policing the borders is an easier job than it has been in years. Making changes now will plan ahead for an economic revival that will call for more imported workers.
America is a nation of immigrants. Let’s honor and restore that tradition.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.