They call the strategy “slow-walk to death.” House Republicans can kill immigration reform by breaking the issue into pieces, stonewalling the bipartisan Senate bill, stalling until fall and pushing final action into 2014. That’s an election year, when they can extract the most blood from their Democratic enemies.
We hope that is not the plan. If it is, immigration reform of any kind will likely die, and that would be a disservice to the nation. Republicans know that. Everyone knows our immigration system is a wreck. To serve the needs of the economy, the nation and humanity, there must be something to pull us up from chaos.
These are the crucial weeks. House leaders say they won’t consider the Senate’s comprehensive bill. They will divide the issue into pieces — border security, visas, enforcement, employer mandates, worker verification, guest workers, and perhaps some resolution for the 12 million undocumented workers already in the country, including legal status and a long path to citizenship.
If it’s a piecemeal approach they want, get on with it and make a serious effort. The goal should not be to maximize the political pressure on Democrats, or take turns posing as the most hostile pro-fence anti-amnesty anti-immigrant ideologue. Write laws to fix laws that do not work. Put policy above party. Take the advice of former President George W. Bush, who said, “The reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster a Republican Party, it’s to fix a system that’s broken. Good policy yields good politics, as far as I’m concerned.”
There is great danger in producing immigration reform in phases. House Republicans want more than the $46 billion for southern border security in the Senate bill, and even if we could be made impregnable it is almost beside the point. If Congress approves inflexible requirements for employers, if all workers must be screened by the E-Verify database system, and there is no functional guest worker program in tandem, then disaster will befall a great industry. The tree-fruit industry of Washington alone, a small slice of the national whole, requires tens of thousands of harvest workers yearly. At least 70 percent are undocumented. Lose those to sudden digital barriers, with no legalized workers and no substitute immigrant labor, and a billion-dollar industry, the economic life source of an entire region, will be lost almost overnight. That will be repeated, state by state. Legislators should not be careless or indifferent to this danger. This is not a game.
The House must not let this opportunity pass. Choose to make policy in the national interest. Find a way to legalize our 12 million neighbors and coworkers. Create a functional immigration system to welcome those willing to work and better their lives in the United States. Work to benefit the economy and the people.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.