A tenuous start for immigration reform

The immigration reform bill engineered by the so-called Gang of Eight — four Republican and four Democratic senators, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet — received its first hearing in a Senate committee 
Thursday, where there was bipartisan support for the measure, even outside the Gang of Eight.

But there are also heartfelt disputes over aspects of the legislation that could kill the bill.

We hope that doesn’t occur because we, like many others across the political spectrum, believe this country needs to significantly reform how it deals with immigration, both legal and illegal. The current system has repeatedly demonstrated it isn’t working.

But the devil, as usual, is in the details. And there are plenty of details in the bill, which began at 844 pages and grew to 867 pages during its first day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Another 300 potential amendments have already been proposed.

Among the changes made to the bill Thursday were a half dozen measures aimed at improving border security, or at least boosting monitoring and reporting. For instance, one addition to the bill requires immigration officials to report twice a year on the status of the Southern Border Security Strategy, and to have those reports reviewed by the comptroller general. Other measures would add Border Patrol agents and more miles of fence.

But there was little agreement on one of the main questions related to border security and the path to legal status for illegal immigrants already in this country. Republicans, led by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, pushed for an amendment that would require federal authorities to establish “operational control” of the entire southern border for at least six months before any illegal immigrants could be given legal status.

But Democrats questioned what “operational control” means. And they argued it would require the entire federal budget to seal the border with Mexico so tightly that no one passes through illegally.

That might be overstating the case, but it would certainly cost a lot more than we currently spend on border control. And, as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin noted, the $18 billion a year we now spend on border security is “more than we spend on all other federal law enforcement combined.”

The Grassley amendment would have effectively killed immigration reform, since it would have put off legal status for those here illegally indefinitely, and Democrats won’t accept that. There are means to improve border security without locking down the border entirely.

Almost no one believes we can round up and deport the estimated 11 million people now here illegally. It makes more sense to create a path for them to become legal, taxpaying residents. At the same time, we need a more efficient and logical system for allowing people to legally immigrate to this country.

The Gang of Eight bill is a sound starting point.


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