Robert Ehlert: We must find our way out of immigration mess

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJune 30, 2013 

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Though there is a slim measure of hope for significant and effective immigration reform to happen now that the U.S. Senate has passed its bill, I am forced to consider the biblical analogy of a camel being able to pass through the eye of a needle.

Biblical scholars tell us that the "eye" is a narrow and problematic pass in a mountainous region that is hard to find and difficult to navigate. Getting to the other side is wholly dependent on the skill of the guide and the camel to get through it.

In the case of this grand summer of immigration discussions, we are about to witness camels in the House heading in the opposite direction of the Senate's S. 744. House Speaker John Boehner said this week that "we are not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes."

Though the Senate bill is lauded for bolstering border security, it is vague about when this happens: before or during the process of granting legal status to the 11 million undocumented residents. Furthermore, Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo - who voted against the measure - point out that, among other shortcomings, S. 744 provides an avenue for "anyone granted a legal status to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit for previous years in which they were not legally authorized to work in the U.S.," according to a Crapo release.

Why didn't the Senate vote on specifics about border security with front-end implementation before adding such tax credits? As Risch said, the Senate bill "commits U.S. taxpayers to turn over their hard-earned money to someone who is not a citizen."

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a key participant, promises the House is looking at things differently. He and his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee believe the "reform" should begin with a host of border security and tighter enforcement measures that come first.

"We will do something with the 11 million, but only after we get the immigration system we need," said Labrador on Friday.

This is not a matter of trust and verify - to borrow Reagan-era language. It is a matter of avoiding what happened in 1986, when amnesty was granted to 3 million undocumented residents, but the enforcement tools promised during the Reagan administration never came about.

We have yet to hear from any members of the House or Senate who say they don't want immigration reform. We wish all 535 of them would sit down and listen to the arguments being put out by Grover Norquist, famously and infamously known for his "No Tax Pledge."

Norquist sauntered into Boise this week like Fred Astaire waltzing with the Statue of Liberty on an Ellis Island stage. Addressing the Boise City Club, he made a convincing and compelling bipartisan argument for all Americans to support immigration because, first, it makes economic sense. Second, it is who we are.

An approach that secures our borders and shores up our laws and security measures before changing anybody's status makes sense. So does a path to citizenship that is fair and certain - though it will be long and arduous for some.

Norquist is correct in thinking that we must find a way to continue to be a haven for those who came here like our ancestors. We can't lose sight and faith that our newest immigrants, like our parents and grandparents, will be able to take our nation to new and greater heights. They can and they will.

But how will we know if we stop short of finding our way through that pass and we allow politics and prejudice to block our way? It's time to find a way through, because on the other side is a link to our past.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6219, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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