Even as some proposals in the current session of the Arizona Legislature are renewing ongoing efforts to “get tough” on illegal immigrants in our state, a bipartisan coalition in the nation's capital appears to be taking a different approach.
A small bipartisan group of U.S. senators - of which both Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake are part - is seeking to move comprehensive immigration reform through Congress.
Immigration reform is nothing new in our nation's capital. There have been a number of notable attempts over the years, often failing but sometimes succeeding. President George W. Bush pushed hard for comprehensive reform six years ago, but the effort was overwhelmed by opposition, especially from members of his own Republican Party.
In the intervening years, reform became a dirty word translating to “amnesty” for some, again especially in the GOP. Opponents, including Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer, often say the first priority has to be “securing the border,” not immigration changes.
The problem is how to define the “secure border” term.
A recent report by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan group focused on immigration reform, noted that border security and protection efforts have been the Obama administration's highest priority law enforcement effort, based on spending. Some $18 billion was spent in the 2012 budget year alone.
And there has been a significant decline in arrests of border crossers in recent years in most parts of the southern border as fewer try to come over the border due to increased enforcement and other factors. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said repeatedly that the border with Mexico is safer than ever, and statistics support that claim.
Critics still dispute it, however, leading us to wonder just what they define as a secure border. In Arizona, Gov. Brewer has basically said she will know it when she sees it. That is a difficult metric for others to measure.
Those supporting the new bipartisan comprehensive plan in Congress are offering assurances it will be based on securing the border first and will include tough sanctions on illegal employers and a stringent path to legal status for those currently living in the country illegally which will ensure it is not “amnesty.”
The question now is whether this bipartisan effort will be any more successful than past efforts.
It is doubtful in our view unless we can get a firm definition of what a “secure border” means since the plan apparently hinges on that. The bipartisan group in Congress has already begun discussing that very issue.
That definition is essential to progress, as well as an acceptance that comprehensive reform is a integral part of the security effort, not a separate one.