Nobody likes the way the United States government handles immigration — legal and otherwise. Not business, not labor, not faith and public interest groups, not elected officials of either party.
That should have been enough to pass a comprehensive reform bill, such as the one approved by the U.S. Senate last year. Business liked it. Labor liked it. Religious organizations and advocates for the poor liked it. Many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, and a few Republicans, including Utah’s U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, liked it.
But the leaders of the House of Representatives — where many among the majority Republicans strongly, and wrongly, denounced the bill as an amnesty for illegal immigrants — didn’t like it. Nose-counters estimated that the bill might have passed with the votes of nearly all Democrats and just enough Republicans. But because the Republican leadership couldn’t win consensus from its own caucus, it was never brought up for a vote.
Now, though, a glimmer of hope has emerged.
House Speaker John Boehner last week put forward a list of principles for immigration reform that he hoped his Republican caucus would discuss and adopt. It wasn’t all that different from the Senate bill, except for one key point.
Instead of including what the Senate called a pathway to citizenship, Boehner’s principles would put the more than 10 million undocumented residents on a path to permanent legal residence.
The point, as expressed recently by Utah’s Rep. Chris Stewart, is that mass deportations would be neither feasible nor moral, separating millions of hard-working people from their jobs and families. But it is more than Republicans could accept to reward those who illegally crossed our borders or overstayed their visas with full citizenship.
Otherwise, Boehner’s points aren’t that different from what the Senate already agreed to. Improved border security. More reliable ways to track those who come and go — or come and don’t go — with temporary visas. A better way for employers to vet the legal status of job applicants.
Democrats, including Obama, made some hopeful noises of agreement over the past few days.
Those sounds of hope were echoed Monday in Salt Lake City, when a group of immigration reform backers urged all sides in the debate to seize upon Boehner’s plan as a workable compromise. That assemblage included representatives of the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Manufacturers Association, as well as Salt Lake County’s Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, and Steve Klemz, pastor of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City.
This group’s point was that in immigration, as in so many other things, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.
Boehner’s ideas are good. Congress should go with them.
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