No balanced talk of immigration reform is expected before the November election. But that need not stop the airing of proposals, some of them semi-formed, some half-baked.
From the left, we have the TRUST Act, a bill passed by the California legislature and now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's uncertain signature. It would require local law enforcement to defy some federal requests to hold arrested illegal immigrants pending checks for criminal records. That would force police to break either state law or federal law. The TRUST Act's sponsors should know that immigration is a federal responsibility in California as well as in Arizona.
In Tampa, Fla., meanwhile, the Republican National Convention produced a party platform with far less "give" for illegal immigrants. It calls for no future amnesty and supports "humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily" -- a polite way of saying "self-deportation."
Two different approaches, each unwise in its own way.
Absent comprehensive reform, the Obama administration has done a heroic job enforcing the country's immigration laws as fairly as possible. Rather than raid factory floors, it has focused on employers who hire undocumented workers. Its Secure Communities program puts priority on removing aliens who pose a threat to public safety. At the same time, it is helping illegal immigrants brought here as children to legally hold jobs. The bottom line is that Obama is doing the hard task. His administration has deported 1.4 million illegal immigrants to date.
The TRUST Act was inspired by the case of Juana Reyes-Hernandez, a tamale vendor arrested for setting up shop on a Wal-Mart parking lot. A more sympathetic person would be hard to find. But because Reyes-Hernandez is an illegal immigrant, she was held under a Secure Communities requirement that fingerprints be sent to a database to confirm she had not committed serious crimes. They came back clean, and she was eventually released. Are Californians lawmakers willing to frustrate a program designed to keep out dangerous foreigners so as not to inconvenience other illegal immigrants? It would seem so.
Back in Tampa, no sooner had grass-roots activists finished carving their strict stance onto the platform tablet, than Romney surrogate John Sununu took a chisel to it. Forget what it says, he told Spanish-language media. America needs "a comprehensive package," including a deal for young illegal immigrants brought here by their parents. He said that Romney wants that and two other things: "One is the expanded guest-worker program. One is the expanded program for visas."
Do we hear strains of the "grand bargain" from the George W. Bush years? That sloppy set of proposals went down in flames, due in part to its cheap-labor provisions. Yes, a visa program for entrants with truly special skills makes sense. A guest-worker program that admits some laborers to pick seasonal crops makes sense. But I hope Sununu's not thinking of another scheme to funnel low-cost foreign labor to American businesses under the guise of immigration reform. We remember Bush's call to "match any willing worker with any willing employer" with pain.
Many of those "willing workers" -- seeing that the U.S. government held its own immigration laws in contempt -- settled illegally in the United States and made lives. Their impression was correct, which is why the Republican platform call for self-deportation cannot be a humane solution.
A last amnesty offering citizenship to most law-abiding illegal immigrants is an essential piece of comprehensive reform. A tight system for verifying the right of future job applicants to work in this country is another. Given today's circumstances, they must go hand in hand. Let's talk again after the election.
© 2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.