If you thought the debate over health care reform was polarized, emotional, and fraught with roadblocks, just wait until Congress re-ignites — perhaps as early as in the next several days — the debate over immigration reform.
The spark is likely to come from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, who plans to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the coming weeks. Schumer has spelled out the goals of the legislation: curtailing illegal immigration, achieving control of our borders, creating a biometric employee verification system, requiring illegal immigrants to become legalized, keeping family reunification a priority, encouraging the best and brightest to immigrate to the United States while discouraging temporary guest workers, and making it easier to come legally.
Those who remember how badly Congress mishandled the immigration reform issue the last time it took a swing at it — in Spring 2007 — can’t be eager for an encore performance.
Last time, there was too much name-calling and posturing and too little compromise and flexibility. There was too much pandering to the extremes in each party and too little time spent trying to understand the other side’s concerns. Finally, there was too much all-or-nothing negotiating and too little willingness to settle for half a loaf as opposed to none. The American people didn’t do much better as they argued out the issue in barbershops and at water coolers, on talk radio and in the blogosphere.
That being the case, there are things that were missing in the immigration debate the last time, and it would behoove both sides to make sure they were in the mix in the next go-around.
Accountability. Holding average Americans accountable for helping to create the illegal immigration problem by relying on illegal labor for a softer existence and better quality of life. If you don’t have an illegal immigrant working for you as a gardener, housekeeper, or nanny, chances are you know someone who does.
Empathy. Reminding Americans that most of them are just two or three generations off the boat, and that — contrary to what they tell themselves — their immigrant grandparents were likewise scorned and treated as scapegoats, even if they came legally. Then, as now, the concern wasn’t how they came but who they were.
Honesty. Admitting that one of the main reasons we have such a thriving market for illegal immigrant labor is because these are jobs that, a generation or two ago, would have been done by young people, who today have no desire to do them. A younger generation with a lousy work ethic and a sense of entitlement poses a greater threat to this country than illegal immigration.
Courage. Standing up to the special interests, whether it is labor unions who are desperate to keep guest worker off the menu, or nativists who sound the cultural alarm bells whenever they see a Spanish-language billboard or hear about how whites are becoming the statistical minority in the United States, or businesses looking for cheap labor.
Nuance. Figuring out that, just because one is against a 2,000-mile border wall or the deputizing of local cops to enforce immigration law, it doesn’t mean one is in favor of an open border. And just because you’re against illegal immigration doesn’t mean you’re against all immigration.
Colorblindness. Doing everything we can to ensure that the debate doesn’t go from anti-illegal immigrant to anti-Hispanic because some people can’t resist injecting race, ethnicity, and culture into the discussion. All that does is sour America’s largest minority and anyone else with an understanding of what a dead-end road that has been throughout U.S. history.
Restraint. Resisting the temptation to overreach and demand more than the other side is willing to go along with, such as when the right tries to change the rules for legal immigrants come to the United States or when the left tries to put an end to workplace raids and limit deportations.
Common sense. Acknowledging that we can’t round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants and that, even if we could, they’d come back before the ink on the paperwork had dried. Even the hope that they’ll “self-deport” if jobs try up isn’t a real solution. When the jobs come back, they will too.
By adding a dash of each of these ingredients, lawmakers and the public might have a productive debate this time around and get that much closer to fixing a system that everyone admits is broken.