Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2007
For immigration reform to please everyone in the United States, it would have to immediately evacuate all immigrants here illegally, in order to suit the right, and permanently throw open all borders, to please the left. Clearly, someone is going to be unhappy no matter what path Congress takes.
So its no small feat for the Senate to come up with a bipartisan agreement that seems to span the political spectrum. Yes, it would allow millions of immigrants here illegally to stay and work toward permanent residence. But if Congress allows this issue to remain in stalemate, those millions will be here, anyway, hiding in the shadows. This proposal acknowledges and allows their presence, bringing them out of the shadows, but it makes future immigration more difficult and gives second-class status to those who legally enter the country to fill low-skill jobs. That is not exactly a win-win for the prospective immigrant population.
Conspicuously absent is President Bushs original plan to grant three-year visas to migrants living in their native countries a fact that disappoints thousands of poor Mexicans who depend on a U.S. guestworker program for temporary jobs in agriculture, landscaping, construction and other temporary jobs. Instead, it focuses on securing the border and giving illegal residents a path toward legal residency, while gradually giving preference for new visas to those with advanced degrees and highly specialized skills.
The United States already has enough people with college degrees. Who is going to cut their tobacco? a man at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey asked a reporter. He has been working intermittently in the U.S. for the past eight years, making $8 an hour, compared to the $10 a day he can expect in Mexico. That, in a nutshell, explains why so many people want to immigrate to the United States.
Bush said Thursday that this proposal calls for no amnesty and no animosity, but prepare to hear a lot about both. Not everyone will appreciate the fact that gaining permanent residency has several prerequisites in the bill: law-abiding records, good employment histories, an eight-year wait to apply, $5,000 in fines and, in the case of heads of households, the requirement that they leave the country and re-enter legally.
That seems like an unlikely proposition. Meanwhile, people who have already gone through the proper channels to enter the country legally or who have been waiting for reform to make that easier say the plan rewards those who have already entered the United States illegally.
This bipartisan plan holds no allure for people who see this issue in terms of black and white immigration, bad; closed borders with high walls, good. But it is a reasonable starting point on a journey that this country must complete. Current immigration law is not working and cannot be enforced. We must find our way to a law that is fair and practical.