Editorial: Immigration reform again sidelined by shameful Congress

Thursday, February 13, 2014
With more than 70 percent of Americans in favor of immigration reform and a pathway to legal residence for those here illegally, it is infuriating Congress remains unwilling to act on a vital U.S. issue.

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner said he is doubtful immigration reform will pass in 2014. He said mistrust of the president holds Republicans back from supporting the immigration reform legislation drafted by four Democrats, four Republicans and passed by the Senate.

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The bill written by the so-called “Gang of 8” includes a 19-year path to citizenship peppered with fines, background checks and English language requirements; the DREAM Act, which offers citizenship to young people who enroll in college or the military; improvements to the family visa application process; and a “border surge” of 40,000 patrol agents and additional surveillance gear.

Boehner said if Congress approved legislation, President Obama might not enforce all its elements equally.

That’s a bogus excuse to do nothing. It masks the shame of Republican intransigence and looks away from the GOP’s well-documented pledge to defeat any proposal related to the Obama administration. And according to a variety of news reports, trust isn’t the prime motivation in delaying steps to repair our broken immigration system, it’s timing.

Some Republicans are worried about the far-right’s reaction to GOP support for “amnesty.” There’s also concern that new Hispanic citizens will increase votes for Democrats. Some have argued that next year, after Republicans have a chance to gain control of the Senate, would be a better time to get to work on immigration.

But here’s what our legislators should actually be concerned with:

∎ Since 1986, the last major overhaul of the U.S. immigration law, the federal government has spent $187 billion on immigration enforcement even as the number of people living illegally in America has tripled to more than 11 million.

∎ According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 5,570 people died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from 1998 to 2012. Thousands are dying.

∎ Roughly 108,430 immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens were removed from the U.S. from 1998 to 2007, according to the most recent information available from the Immigration Policy Center. These families suffer.

∎ In California alone, if reform were passed, the wages of unauthorized workers would increase by $26.9 billion, generating an additional $5.3 billion in tax revenue and creating 633,000 new jobs, according to a study by Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California.

We ask members of Congress not to sacrifice the hopes of individuals and families — and the well-being of the U.S. economy.

But we’re not hopeful, given the scale of this body’s recent failures: improving gun controls, easing income inequality, addressing issues with the public education system, limiting intrusions on privacy by the National Security Administration, failing to close Guantanamo Bay, protecting the environment, holding Wall Street accountable for the 2008 economic collapse, acting on climate change, limiting student debt, protecting voting rights and backing campaign finance reform.

There is a clear bipartisan plan to improve immigration in America.

Start with that and get something done already.