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Thu., April 1, 2010, midnight

Immigration reform plan too urgent for bickering

The following editorial is from the Yakima Herald-Republic:

Former presidential candidate John McCain issued a warning to President Barack Obama last week. In response to passage of Obama’s health care reform and the way the Democrat-controlled Congress treated the GOP, the Arizona senator told the president to forget about getting Republican support for any legislation: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.”

While McCain’s political showmanship is, on some level, understandable, his lack of statesmanship is deplorable. On one issue more than any other, action is needed now, more than ever. This country needs Republicans in Congress to get off the sidelines and help shape an acceptable package of immigration reform. And the Democratic majority needs to get off its collective behind and work with the GOP. Obama, in his campaign against McCain in 2008, pledged to make immigration reform a priority. Since then, he has given it mostly lip service, considering the attention paid to health care reform, the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With health care reform presumably behind him, Obama must renew his commitment to immigration reform.

The government estimates about 12 million people are in this country illegally. The Yakima Valley, with its reliance on manual labor to work in agriculture, has a large presence of undocumented workers – by some estimates up to 70 percent of those working in farming. What Congress does, or does not do, has huge implications for us.

Immigration reform must include more stringent workplace regulations to verify employee identity, include provisions for guest workers, and allow a way for those here illegally and without other criminal legal issues to earn their way toward citizenship. Our country must also do a better job of securing our borders, as well as having stronger law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Two senators, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, have prepared an outline of legislation that addresses some of our concerns. In addition to focusing on border security and temporary workers, some of the provisions would require those here illegally to do the following if they want to gain legal status: Admit they broke the law when they entered the U.S. illegally, pay fines and back taxes, perform community service, pass background checks and become proficient in English before working toward legal residency.

Obama says he supports the broad outline. The legislation’s viability depends on details yet to be agreed upon. For that reason, we can’t say whether this early plan is workable, but it’s a start. Hopefully, it’s a better start to reform than what former President George W. Bush faced from his own party in 2007.

To make sure this effort crosses the finish line, those same Republicans who said no to Bush must rethink their positions and do what’s right for the good of the country. Democrats, in the meantime, must be more prepared to include Republican input to the package in a much more meaningful way than was evident in the health care debate.

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