Serious immigration reform may finally be on the way, now that President Bush has thrown his support behind it. But Arizonans fed up with the security risks and drain on public resources resulting from our porous border shouldn't expect an instant fix, though more money for securing the border is already on the way.
Bush signed a $32 billion funding bill for Homeland Security on Tuesday that shifts the spending priority from first responders, where it has been since 9/11, to border security. That will help, but it falls far short of sealing the border, which is what immigration hard-liners want.
The sticking point of immigration reform will be the guest worker program that Bush and most of Arizona's congressional delegation want, and what illegal immigrants now in the country will have to do to gain legal status.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has vowed to “return every single illegal entrant — no exceptions.” But U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warns trying to deport every illegal immigrant is impractical and would be costly not only for the federal Treasury but also for businesses that depend on immigrant labor.
McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have introduced legislation that would allow illegals to apply for legal status without having to return to their country of origin. U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is sponsoring a bill requiring them to return to their country of origin before being allowed to apply for legal status.
Kyl insists his approach cannot be labeled “amnesty,” and that making the transition to legal status too easy and free of penalties would simply encourage more illegal immigration in the future. There's much truth to that; immigration legislation passed 20 years ago included an amnesty provision that helped fuel the current problem.
Meaningful reform also must strengthen requirements on employers to ensure their workers are in the country legally. That will be hard without taking steps Kyl has proposed to make the Social Security card counterfeit-proof. While there is some opposition to creating what essentially would be a national ID card, rising concerns about identity theft appear to make Kyl's proposal politically doable.
With the president now supporting immigration reform, let's hope Congress musters the courage to resist extremists on both sides of this issue and craft a tough but workable solution.