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Is immigration reform possible after election?
One early outcome of the presidential election appears to be a growing political consensus that immigration reform will again be an issue of national concern.
After being a hot-button issue for so many years — especially here in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest — illegal immigration took a backseat in this year's presidential campaigning where much of the focus was placed on the economy.
There seems to be a growing realization, however, among Republican Party leaders that taking a proactive stance on immigration reform could help build support for the party among Hispanics, who overwhelmingly voted for President Obama.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer — long a critic of the federal government's immigration policies, especially in regard to illegal immigration — is one of those who sees the coming focus on this issue.
“This is a good thing,” she said this week. “America's immigration system is broken.”
But Brewer fears there could be a “rush head-long into a ‘solution' that only makes things worse” by offering “amnesty to tens of millions of illegal aliens” in return for border security.
“That's why I have a simple request for the president and Congress: Secure our border first,” she said in a statement. “Demonstrate that you take seriously the safety concerns of Americans living in the border region. With that completed, we can pursue — together — ways to fix our nation's broader immigration system in a fashion that is effective, practical and humane.”
That is the same old refrain we keep hearing from opponents of real reform. It is true the border can be made even more secure, but there has been substantial improvement in recent years to tighten it with added technology and personnel. The reality is it will never be totally impervious. That is just not possible, given its length, the diverse terrain and the determination of those who want to cross it.
A simultaneous multi-pronged approach is what is needed, not a narrow emphasis on border security. This includes:
• Workable and realistic immigration policies that recognize the contributions that immigrants have long made to this country. Immigrants are contributors, not takers. Make it easier and less bureaucratic for those who want to make their lives here to do so.
• Recognition there is a legitimate need for foreigners who want to work here but not necessarily remain here or become citizens. That need will grow as baby boomers leave the work force. If we provide easier, lawful ways for those wanting to come here to work, they will be less tempted to do so illegally.
• Recognition of the reality of the millions of illegal residents already here, most of whom are law-abiding and have their families and lives here. That means providing paths to legal status and/or citizenship. Simply rounding them up and kicking them out is neither compassionate nor practical.
• Safeguarding the border to the extent possible by providing the necessary resources and ensuring that our visa, passport and visitation policies are appropriately enforced. Crossing-area security needs to be beefed up while steps are at the same time taken to ensure a rapid and smooth flow or workers and others who have a legitimate need to cross the border.
Our nation's immigration policies are not broken, as Gov. Brewer claims, but they certainly do need some improvement. President George W. Bush tried to do this when he was president but was thwarted by hardliners on illegal immigration. They are the ones who always block needed reforms.
Maybe the opportunity has arrived to actually do something, but it will first require a bipartisan willingness to deal with the complexities of the problem, not the simplistic approaches of recent years.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870.