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Why immigration reform is so tricky

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 10:28 am

Earlier this week, I was in Washington, D.C., for what most locals say is the year’s busiest period. The cherry blossoms were out and tourists from all corners came to see them. Coincidentally, two major bills are pending in Congress, comprehensive immigration reform and gun control. Lobbyists from near and far came to D.C. to make their voices heard.

On April 10, illegal immigrants and their supporters gathered on the Capitol lawn to demonstrate their support for legislation that would grant permanent residency and eventual citizenship to about 11 million aliens. Two bills, one in the Senate and another in the House, are anticipated soon even though there have already been several delays.

Although there are several hang ups, two issues command center stage. The first and most contentious concerns border security. What metrics will be used to measure its effectiveness and when will the so called “triggers” go into effect? That is, will the border have to be locked down before illegal immigrants receive legal status or will the promise to put effective controls in place sometime into the future be good enough? The Gang of Eight, the driving force behind the Senate bill, has two members at opposite ends of the security spectrum. Marco Rubio (R-FL) demands security in advance of amnesty; Chuck Schumer (D-NY) insists the legislation should go ahead without it.

The second controversy is whether illegal immigrants should receive instant or provisional permanent residency and how far down the line should they have to wait for citizenship. Some propose that the delay be as far out as 10 to 13 years.

While thousands showed up, the crowd was visibly smaller than in past years. For many, attendance was mandatory. Unions ordered their members to go, provided bus transportation, meals and lodging. Unions’ endorsement of illegal immigration is a departure from tradition, to say the least. In fact, unions backing amnesty legislation violates the traditions that Cesar Chavez established when he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers. Chavez knew that more illegal immigrant workers willing to accept lower wages hurt his union members. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report, in March the economy created only 88,000 new jobs. Only 40 percent of working age African-Americans is fully employed. What America needs is more jobs, not more workers.

Even though the federal deficit topped $1 trillion for the fourth consecutive year and the White House proposes an unsustainable fiscal year 2014 $3.77 trillion budget, President Obama declared that passing amnesty legislation is his “number one priority.”

Everyone wants to know what’s next. As of today, the Senate plans to reveal its 1,500-page bill on Tuesday and then hold a single hearing the following day. No one on either side of the aisle can read 1,500 pages of dense congressional legislation overnight. The Senate’s heavy-handed effort to ram the bill through will raise the ire of the already incensed opposition which includes some Democrats.

Whatever the Senate bill’s final form may be, it will not have enough votes to pass. House legislation will be dead on arrival. On Capitol Hill, nothing is more toxic than immigration. Since the same vows were made and broken in 1986 during the Immigration Reform and Control Act, today’s promises about border and interior enforcement have no credibility.

Immigration works only if it’s managed gradually and thoughtfully. The ongoing, clandestine comprehensive immigration reform talks driven by special interest groups are a hodge-podge of random ideas slapped together without considering America’s best interests.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Contact Joe at

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