What would comprehensive immigration reform look like if the feds got off their duffs?

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What would comprehensive immigration reform look like if the feds got off their duffs?

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Last and not at all least, people seeking comprehensive immigration reform want to create a path to full, legal, taxpaying status and accountability for the law-abiding majority of the 11.1 million people estimated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be in the country without proper authorization.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a non-partisan research group, estimates that 60 percent of the 11.1 million are from Mexico, another 20 percent from other Latin-American countries.

Think of the essential piece in making it all work as a coin. First side: Give people an incentive to come out of the shadows and sign up for citizenship. Second side: Create a bulletproof ID system to show who has signed up and who has not. The Schumer bill, in particular, calls for a high-tech Social Security card with a computer chip that can't be faked.

But these kinds of solutions — perhaps because they are pragmatic and wonkish — are all the more infuriating to people like Riddle who regard the presence of the undocumented as a call to arms, not a call for more computer chips.


In the recent midterm congressional election, anti-immigration forces sang a song with two verses — immigrants are crooks, America is for Americans. Candidates including Governor Jan Brewer; Sharon Angle, the Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Senate from Nevada; and Tom Tancredo, an independent who was defeated in a bid to become governor of Colorado, portrayed undocumented aliens as criminals.

Together they worked to bond permanently any form of legal status for undocumented people with the term, "amnesty." Amnesty — a kinder, gentler word under Ronald Reagan — was used in the midterm campaigns to mean letting dangerous criminals off scot-free. And, put that way, nobody likes the idea. Instead, having defined unauthorized immigrants as crooks, the advocates of expulsion want them gone, all 11.1 million.

The cost alone would be staggering. The Center for American Progress, a research group with close ties to the Obama administration, used numbers from the Department of Homeland Security to estimate that the cost of deporting the 11.1 million would be $285 billion — twice the 2009 costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Worse than the dollar cost, pushing 11 million people out of our midst would look to the rest of the world like a chapter from the Bible, and not one of the good chapters.

And yet the balance seems to have shifted toward expulsion. Angle and Tancredo may have lost in the November 2 election, but a consensus among insiders is that the animus they represented won. Frank Sharry, founder and director of America's Voice, a liberal immigration advocacy group in Washington, says: "The House of Representatives is now in the hands of radicals who will run the immigration policy. There's no way around it. And they're going to be able to pass anything they want."

Sharry's best hope is that the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, will serve as "the firewall that stands up to the radical shit coming out of the House."

The same general gloom can be heard from more conservative employer-group advocates for reform. Craig Reggelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR), which represents employer-farmers, paints a grim picture:

"The solution we stand for and we have been working on with Congress for years," he says, "is a negotiated compromise that the chief labor union in agriculture and the employers all support, but the debate has grown more and more dysfunctional."

Dysfunctional is not necessarily code for Republican, but it could be for Tea. Immigration reform as expressed in the Schumer bill has strong support from many Republicans, who point out that former President George W. Bush came closer to getting a decent bill passed than has President Barack Obama.

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