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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

Senate offers realistic immigration reforms

The magnitude of the problem all but guarantees that any proposal to manage the number of illegal immigrants in this country will be patchy and incremental.

But the difficulty of grappling with immigration and border security should not stall action on reform during an election year which very well could happen given the politics on Capitol Hill.

The current U.S. Senate bill is a compromise and addresses only a narrow segment of illegal immigrants. But it represents the best effort so far to reconcile the reality of the workforce with the needs of the larger community.

This bill deserves support over a much more strident and punitive House proposal because it defines the solution in far more achievable terms, and charts a course toward more cohesion among immigrants and residents.

The estimated 11 million undocumented workers now living in the U.S. make up a population living largely in the shadows, one that is viewed by some as a threat to national security, a drain on employment and social services, or both.

These workers take marginal jobs; without them, wages would have to rise to attract American workers. Higher salaries would be an improvement, of course, but many of the jobs might simply go unfilled.

So it's simplistic to criticize the "guest worker" proposal as a means to steal bread off the table of legal residents. Further, some companies would be unable to compete in the global marketplace without these willing workers.

Clearly, turning these people into felons and conducting a wholesale sweep aimed at their deportation as the House bill would do would exact a heavy toll and compound the burden on law enforcement. Many immigrants simply would burrow further underground.

It's true that the U.S. can't afford simply to open its borders, so security that's focused at stopping criminal exploitation drug and human trafficking must be tightened. The Senate bill would fine those who have crossed illegally, which is a more reasonable consequence than arrest.

The bill also provides strict monitoring of "guest workers," as well as clear and attainable requirements and guidelines for pursuing citizenship, which could deter immigrants from entering illegally.

Studies demonstrate that most migrant workers pay more than enough taxes to cover the services they use. So it becomes obvious that Americans' growing anti-immigrant sentiment may arise more from our prejudices than from bona fide economic fears.

Congressional members should consider the proposals before them promptly, not punt until after the election. And when they do, they must acknowledge this country's history of welcoming immigrants.

They must decide whether this remains a mission America will fulfill.