Failure to act on immigration has consequences we cannot afford

By David Ure

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, leave the Capitol after final passage of the Senate's immigration reform bill, in Washington, Thursday, June 27, 2013. Schumer, a Democrat, and McCain, a Republican, were lead authors of the bipartisan legislation that would dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system and require a tough new focus on border security.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Enlarge photo»

With Senate passage, the immigration debate has reached a nearly hysterical pitch, which I suppose should have been expected. As a former legislator and sponsor of significant Utah immigration bills, I am aware of how high emotions run.

The debate dominates the media. "Experts" expound on the good or ill of immigration. We hear reference to high-skilled immigrants, guest workers, chain migration, and an alphabet soup of our 90 or so visa classifications such as H1-B. It is confusing, and the inflamed rhetoric does not help.

But at this moment in our history, Congress needs to act. Forget about a new "Dream Act" — this Congress must pass a "Reality Act." Because it is reality, or rather, several realities we are dealing with.

Reality 1: We have at least 11 million undocumented individuals living in our country. That is a problem. Our immigration system is a joke and a travesty. A nation as great as ours should be embarrassed by it. We cannot even say with any certainty who we have residing here — there is no real system of accounting for them.

Reality 2: Our economy does need immigrant workers. Highly-skilled workers like engineers help produce more jobs for other people. Guest workers like those in my own dairy industry are willing to do jobs most native born Americans will not do. Either way, immigrant workers will contribute to our economy.

Reality 3: A perfect solution does not exist. Decades of "Border Security Theater" by successive administrations of both parties have resulted in over 11 million undocumented residents. No good options remain, therefore we are left to choose among the "less bad" options.

Reality 4: Republicans do not get to call the tune. There are three government bodies involved in addressing this problem, the House, the Senate and the president. Last November there was an election. Of the entities charged with solving this problem, Democrats won two out of three.

Reality 5: Any solution passed by Congress and signed by the president is going to be a compromise. Too many in my own party see compromise as a "hiss and a byword," a show of weakness. Never mind that the Constitution they hold so dear was born completely out of compromise, they'll have none of it.

Reality 6: Doing nothing is not an option. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and others are correct: Right now we have de facto amnesty. Most experts agree that if this current effort fails, it could be another 10 years before another serious try. Every one of the problems we now suffer because of our broken immigration system will get worse with another decade of inaction.

Reality 7: Sitting this one out as a critic on the sidelines is a failure to lead, a failure to represent. For our elected representatives to refuse to engage or refuse to negotiate or compromise because they cannot have things their way is to endorse the status quo.

Reality 8: Even if the Democratic-controlled Senate bill is far from perfect, the matter still goes to House. We need Utah's House members to be fully engaged, fully part of the process, and fully prepared to make the bill better and then to make reasonable compromise. We demand a solution, not re-election cover.

Sen. Hatch has led on this issue and not without severe criticism. But he has been part of the process, trying to make things better. I hope our House membership will follow his lead.

The bill now before the Senate is far, far from perfect. There is something in it for everyone to hate. But failure to act is a failure our nation can no longer afford.

David Ure is a rancher and a county council member in Summit County. He is also a former Utah House majority whip.

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