Federal immigration reform has stalled in Congress after months of overheated debate and protest marches around the country. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has refused to explore possible compromises between a House immigration enforcement-only approach and a Senate plan that includes a new guest-worker program and new paths to citizenship.
Instead of appointing members to a joint conference committee, Hastert has called for a series of field hearings in August to further review the Senate bill. Involving up to seven different House committees, this delaying tactic makes it likely Congress will avoid any action this year other than to spend more money on border patrols.
There will be no wall or additional fences, no interior workplace enforcement, no additional permits for low-skill workers to legally enter our country, no answers for more than 11 million migrants already living illegally in the U.S. Some had predicted this outcome after the House passed its unrealistic, “tough
talk” bill in December, including Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.
We had more hope after House GOP leaders said they would look to the Senate to address key issues including a guest-worker plan. So Republicans will deserve every bit of rhetorical scorn likely to be heaped upon the ruling party if 2006 closes without any comprehensive action on this urgent national problem.
The situation didn’t look any better here in Arizona after the Legislature’s regular session ended last week. A majority of Republicans revealed they had been using the immigration issue as a political hammer against Gov. Janet Napolitano, and didn’t sincerely believe they had effective alternatives to the lack of federal will.
Earlier in the session, Republicans had sent Napolitano a bill that leaders touted as the most comprehensive state plan in the country. They promised to place much of the package directly before state voters if Napolitano didn’t go along. The governor called the Republicans’ bluff with a necessary veto because of critical flaws in the bill.
When the dust settled on the final 24 hours of the session, the Legislature had sent only three provisions to the November ballot that will have no effect whatsoever on illegal immigration.
Migrants looking for work don’t care much about receiving child care subsidies or adult education classes. Most probably don’t think far enough ahead to worry about their children someday receiving in-state university tuition or state-funded college scholarships. And a law again declaring English our official language, if it survives a court challenge, will encourage migrants to learn English faster instead of pushing them to return to their countries of origin.
Lawmakers didn’t act on more significant proposals such as making illegal presence in the state a trespassing crime, a proposed crackdown on employers, or revoking local policies that direct police to not enforce federal immigration laws.
We can’t say we’re disappointed with this outcome, as we’ve argued these matters should be left to federal hands. But voters should take note of the implications here, as the seat of every state legislator is up for election in November.
A majority of Republican lawmakers delivered these proposals to Napolitano with little serious negotiation, even after the governor and others issued warnings about their many flaws.
But Republicans flinched away when it came time to ask voters to override Napolitano’s vetoes. These Republicans realized the Legislature likely would be unable to correct any mistakes because of the high standards associated with changing voter-approved laws.
Voters deserve to be represented by state politicians who participate honestly in discussing one of the most important issues of our time, instead of cynically supporting bills they hope will be rejected so they can show their outrage during the election season.