The election results aren't likely to bring Democrats and Republicans closer together on all the grave issues facing our country, but it may have narrowed the gap on one of them -- the undeniable need for sweeping immigration reform.
If true, a break in the impasse can't happen fast enough. President Obama promised to deliver on comprehensive immigration legislation in his first term in office. He didn't do that during his first two years when an amenable Congress was controlled by the Democrats. He was mostly stymied by a majority of Republicans after the 2010 midterm elections. Nevertheless, Obama did laudably take executive action this year, announcing that the administration would be helping young illegal immigrants get a chance to stay in the country rather than deporting them.
He also has pledged to work hard for broader reforms; the election results may help him achieve that goal. That's because some Republican leaders are now talking about reform. To his credit, President Bush pushed for big changes in the country's immigration policies, but the GOP leadership in Congress would not budge.
Now, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are pitching changes that would bolster security at the borders and provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. If this sounds familiar, it should. The two senators made the same suggestion in 2010, but the idea went nowhere.
This year, Republicans woke up to election results showing more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama. Graham said the "tone and rhetoric" Republic-ans used in earlier immigration debates have "built a wall between the Republican party and Hispanic community." And, surely, the flaming rhetoric during the Republican party primary this year didn't help, either.
Changing the country's immigration laws makes abundant sense for many reasons. For starters, there is just no way the country will or could even afford to round up 12 million people -- roughly the population of Ohio -- and begin deportation processes. It's never going to happen, and it would flood our already-burdened court systems if it did. What's more, our farmers and others in the area have long recognized the need for clearer, enforceable immigrant policies so they can continue to run their businesses without flouting the law, intentionally or otherwise.
The plan put forth by the senators puts a premium on border security and doesn't go light on illegal immigrants. They would have to take the initiative to "come out of the shadows, get biometrically identified, start paying taxes, pay a fine for the law they broke," Graham said. They would have to learn English, but if they follow the guidelines, they wouldn't face deportation but would be able to obtain a green card, gaining permanent residency status and ultimately the chance for citizenship.
It's critical that a federal policy be enacted, not a patchwork of state laws that would create inconsistencies along the borders and, thus, prove less effective and certainly more confusing. Immigration reform has been kicked around long enough. Realistic solutions are needed, not more hollow rhetoric. Congress and the president have plenty of motivation to get this done and should seize on the opportunity.
-- The Poughkeepsie Journal