In our opinion: Immigration reform is needed now, not next election cycle

Published: Sunday, Feb. 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Jissela Centeno and her son Matthew Pineda of Arlington, Va., whose family is from Honduras, participates in a rally for immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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Ten days ago, House Republicans put forward a series of very encouraging principles for immigration reform. This past Thursday, however, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, squashed any expectations that the House would take up the matter this year. Most Republicans do not have any objections. Rather, according to The Wall Street Journal, “many balked at debating an issue that divides Republicans and feared giving the president a legislative victory in an election year.”

This is short-sighted political gamesmanship, and is not worthy of our nation’s representatives. Prior to Thursday, the principles proposed by House Republicans were encouraging because they signaled a breakthrough in the logjam that had kept meaningful action at bay. It reflected a tone of civility and common sense that resolution of this issue demands.

Utah has long been on the forefront in calling for a compassionate and realistic approach to immigration. In 2010, a wide range of political, business, law enforcement and religious groups lined up in support of the Utah Compact, which enunciated five principles to guide the immigration debate: seeking federal solutions; focusing law enforcement on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code; uniting rather than separating families; recognizing immigrants’ contributions to the economy; and adopting a humane and inclusive attitude toward immigrants.

On the national level, the Republican Party faces a challenge in broadening its appeal beyond its base among the white middle-class and cultural conservatives. Its inability to appeal to Hispanics was one significant aspect of its loss in the 2012 presidential contest. That’s why it’s so important for the party to act now to confront the threshold question of addressing immigration.

Until recently, progress had stalled over concerns about border security and whether efforts to grant undocumented residents legal status would amount of a grant of amnesty. Border security is important, although there is no realistic way to guarantee against all unauthorized entry to American territory. Still, Washington needs to act in good faith to secure the border.

More importantly, there must be some avenue to attain legal status for the millions of unauthorized immigrants who reside here. Arresting and deporting these productive and law-abiding individuals is neither feasible nor desirable. Nor is an indefinite state of limbo.

In a perfect world, earning the status of citizen of the United States would be more than a function of attrition. But our nation has created an imperfect system, rife with confusing procedures and randomly enforced rules. It is natural that good people, seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families — and committing malice toward none — would immigrate to a land of opportunity. We should welcome them.

In that light, the GOP idea of offering a type of legal status that falls short of full citizenship is not unreasonable, providing that a path to full citizenship remains open as well.

The GOP principles also includes two other essential components of effective reform. It calls for an easing and simplification of rules governing work visas for highly skilled professionals who fill our nation’s employment needs. In particular, the Republican principles note that “thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields [and that many] of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans.” The nation should encourage them to stay.

Most compelling of all is the need that children brought illegally to the country be permitted on the path to citizenship. Unlike the question of amnesty, this is a discussion about the future, not the past. What’s done cannot be undone, and the innocent children who consider themselves American in every way minus a technicality should not be barred from full participation in the nation’s affairs.

Immigration reform is a matter of compassion. It is the right thing to do for U.S. citizens and for those law-abiding individuals who wish to be citizens. And for the millions of hard-working people whose lives are in limbo, reform of the nation’s immigration laws are needed now, not in a political campaign cycle that is convenient for Republicans.

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