Outside editorial: Congress keeps passing the immigration buck

Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Congress' secret strategy for dealing with immigration reform is brazen, deceptive and largely executed to success: posture about meaningful changes being a federal responsibility then let state legislatures and the courts get their hands scalded with the hot potato.

Maybe Congress is too fractured to have coordinated any such plan, but that's what years of willful inaction have produced.

Oh, sure, members have bandied about bills and pontificated about the woefully broken system. Some have related moving stories about desperate immigrants; others have decried those who break our laws to enter this land of opportunity.

But who's actually doing something?

The Arizona legislature, for one. Those state lawmakers have in many ways overreached. Some of the claims about the administration's supposed lax enforcement of existing laws are exaggerated or provably false. Still, states' frustrations can be understood when it's clear that Congress has failed to tackle problems in the system that can't be fixed without changing federal law.

Because states have started taking matters into their own hands, the courts now must get involved, too.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving an Arizona law under which businesses must verify potential employees' status through the federal electronic database and can lose their state licenses if they hire illegal workers.

In another case in the federal court pipeline, the Justice Department is suing Arizona over a more comprehensive law imposing immigration sanctions.

The justices should rule on the employee-verification law by July.

Meanwhile, Congress might not even pass the Dream Act, which attempts to address what should be the least-controversial element of immigration reform.

The Dream Act would grant legal residency - not automatic citizenship - to thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. as children but have grown up essentially as Americans, completing high school and staying out of trouble. To qualify, they must attend college or serve in the military, go through a waiting period and eventually take the steps for applying for citizenship, including paying fees and meeting other qualifications.

Military leaders have supported the bill because it would provide another pool of recruits. Businesses support it because it would put into the job market students who already are being educated in U.S. schools. Religious leaders have supported it because it's the right thing to do for students who had no choice in being brought here.

The U.S. House passed the bill on a 216-198 vote Wednesday. But the measure has stalled in the Senate. Texas Sen. John Cornyn called the attempt to get a Senate vote a purely political move. But it's Senate Republicans who are playing politics with it.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the original sponsors of the Dream Act, now finds it toxic. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for a 2007 version but reportedly opposes the current wording.

Opponents erroneously call it amnesty that will deprive legitimate Americans of a college education and heap public benefits on undeserving scofflaws - even though there's nothing guaranteed about citizenship and those who qualify for legal status would only be able to get federal student loans that must be paid back, not grants that act as scholarships.

The Dream Act isn't a perfect solution to any immigration problem, but it's a workable solution that should be given a chance. Republicans who oppose it simply to see President Barack Obama fail at every possible turn merely fail to act in the public's interest and leave the responsibility to other branches of government.

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