The U.S. Senate is due to take up the long-overdue comprehensive reform of the nation's antiquated and counterproductive immigration system. It is crucial, for reasons political, economic and, most of all, humanitarian, that this reform package move forward with all deliberate speed and not be allowed to run aground on any of a multiplicity of troublesome details.
A key to the success or failure of this reform is Utah's senior senator, Orrin Hatch. His status among his fellow Republicans can provide needed leadership or political cover for others who may be on the fence.
Hatch has long called for a reworking of the nation's immigration laws and has, off and on, championed such excellent ideas as legal status for people brought to the United States as children, as well as expanding the availability of guest worker status for both agricultural workers and for workers valued by the high-tech sector.
Sadly, though, Hatch has also proposed an amendment to the immigration bill that would, if adopted, unnecessarily complicate both the politics and the practical application of reform. His proposal would require that the immigrants who would be eligible for new legal status and, eventually, citizenship, cough up all back taxes they may owe.
In principle, it's a simple and valid point. In practice, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. So many immigrants who have worked in this country without proper documentation have been paid under the table, or at least without proper records, that calculating what those back taxes might be in millions of cases would be a major impediment to bringing these people out of the shadows.
Meanwhile, our economy continues to be hamstrung by either a lack of sufficient labor or a reliance on labor that is undocumented.
The agricultural sector is particularly in need of the reform bill's passage. And the farm labor sections of the bill, supported by both growers and labor organizations, would be a huge improvement over the status quo in allowing farmers to hire temporary help. It would recognize that jobs on many farms, from orchards to dairy barns, are, indeed, skilled positions that can best be filled by people who come from generations of farm workers, most of whom just happen to be citizens of other nations.
Utah's other senator, Mike Lee, stands opposed to any comprehensive reform package, and his ideologically retrograde contribution to this process will be predictably nil.
Hatch, though, can still do a great deal to move this reform forward. He should do so. Proudly.