Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Immigration Road Show

NYT Editorial

This was supposed to be the time that the House and Senate got serious about immigration — by working out the differences between their drastically opposing bills and sending a solution to President Bush, who has made repairing the immigration system one of his cornerstone promises to Americans. It was going to be a hard job, involving lots of focused attention and a willingness to compromise. A hard job, but that's what we pay these people for.

But wait. Hold on. House Republican leaders have decided they don't want to negotiate just yet. They say they want to take a closer look at the Senate bill, this strange thing called "bipartisan legislation" that Republicans and Democrats alike somehow got behind, that the president supports and that views immigration in three dimensions, not one. It seeks to get a handle on the problem by tightening security, regulating the future flow of immigrants and treating the existing population of illegal immigrants with practicality and decency.

The House has a much more simple-minded solution: walling immigrants out and calling the rest felons. Like the baffled hominids of "2001: A Space Odyssey," they are poking at the Senate's big-picture approach with a leg bone.

Their plan is to travel the country this summer holding public hearings on the Senate bill. That will probably just kill immigration reform for the year, since Congress won't get around to negotiations until just before the November elections, when serious, difficult discussions are generally taboo. "We are going to listen to the American people," the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, said.

But what the Republicans really want to do is take the Senate bill on a perp walk through the red states, relishing the catcalls denouncing it as "amnesty" and using the hearings to milk whatever anti-immigrant resentment they can find or drum up for the benefit of their candidates. Their motives couldn't be clearer. A senior member of the Republican leadership, Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, called the Senate legislation the "Kennedy bill," a nasty bit of partisan mislabeling that would surprise Arlen Specter and the other Republican co-sponsors, including Mel Martinez and John McCain.

If the Republicans really wanted to listen, they would listen to a recent poll that found that Americans are coming around to President Bush's immigration views. Or to the more than 500 economists who signed an open letter to Mr. Bush arguing that immigration is a net plus for the nation's economy.

Given the topics that have preoccupied Congress lately, one wonders why the Republicans don't simply propose a catchall bill aimed at illegal gay liberal Mexican flag burners and be done with it. The immigration debate has been obscured for too long by a fog of distortion and fear, and the House Republicans are gambling that the public won't see through it. The American people deserve better. They deserve action on a good immigration bill, and if this do-nothing Congress won't give it to them, they should elect a Congress that will.

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