Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Immigration comeback

President Bush is right to give comprehensive reform one last push -- and sooner rather than later.

March 15, 2007

PRESIDENT BUSH received earfuls in Latin America this week about his administration's tougher-on-immigration policies of the last year or so. Though his interlocutors in Guatemala and Mexico may have been right on some points, their critiques glossed over one important consideration: By leading with a stricter enforcement component, Bush has made it possible for comprehensive immigration reform to happen.

The president didn't unveil any new initiatives or promises during his trip, but in Guatemala on Monday, he took the important step of setting August as the unofficial deadline for an immigration overhaul to get through Congress. Though Bush portrayed it as a way to beat the late-year appropriations morass, the real political benefit of tackling reform as soon as possible is that by the end of summer, Congress will be too caught up in the 2008 presidential primaries to make a sober deal on such a hot-button issue.

In Mexico on Wednesday, Bush expressed confidence that a bill would pass this year, despite its failure in 2006, because "members of Congress are now feeling more comfortable that the country is committed to the rule of law." What he meant is that following the passage of last year's law to build or improve 700 miles of fencing along the border, combined with a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants that led to a tripling of arrests in 2006, politicians can no longer justify their failure to pass an equitable immigration policy by saying that the country needs to focus on border security first. In other words: We got tough last year, now it's time to concentrate on the 12 million illegal immigrants who are already here and the need for a larger legal labor pool willing to do jobs Americans don't want.

It also helps that Democrats, the more reform friendly of the two major parties, have taken control of Congress. But Bush said that the White House will take a hands-on approach toward rallying Republicans behind a bill. That's a refreshing move from a president who has been reluctant to crack heads in his own party on an issue that inflames its base.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is drafting the Senate's version of a comprehensive immigration bill, which he says will be similar to the one the chamber passed last year but that was rejected by the House. Bush is taking a more GOP-centric approach. "Once we can get a coherent Republican position, one that most Republicans are comfortable with, then we'll start working with" Kennedy, Bush said in Guatemala. But if Republicans dig in behind another bill based on fantasies of airtight enforcement, the entire effort will be torpedoed once again.

Immigration reform is sometimes considered too hot for legislators to touch. Indeed, there are signs that the Democratic Party could split over immigration the way Republicans did last year. Yet right now is the best chance to pass a bill this decade, and one of the few remaining opportunities Bush has left to leave a notable legacy.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|