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posted: 6/30/2013 9:34 AM

Editorial: The U.S. House's revealing stance on immigration reform

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Republicans in the U.S. House have more to think about than just immigration when it comes to legislation headed their way via the U.S. Senate. They also should give serious thought to the nation's faith both in the Congress and in their party.

On Thursday, the Senate passed the most sweeping immigration reform legislation in 27 years on a strongly bipartisan 68-32 vote. The bill includes opportunities for citizenship for young people who have never known any other home, a 13-year process for others living here illegally to rectify their status and billions of dollars in expenditures to substantially slow if not halt the flow of illegal immigrants into this country.

The strategy was developed by a committee that became known as the Gang of Eight, evenly split between the two major parties and featuring voices as conservative as that of Florida Republican Marco Rubio and as liberal as that of Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. The result was a bill that attracted widespread support, ranging from immigrant groups to major small-business associations.

At that, its initial greeting in the Senate was less than exuberant. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was among Republicans who helped defeat an early version. But Kirk and others were won over after framers built in even tougher measures to prevent illegal immigration.

House Republicans should take a lesson from Kirk's lead. If they do, they might be able to demonstrate to the American people that Congress can achieve something through the art of political compromise and that, despite its growing reputation, the Republican Party is not hostile to Hispanics and other minorities.

Instead, unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner -- who knows the bill would pass the House if he allowed it up for a vote -- has declared the Senate legislation "dead on arrival," and his chief deputy whip, Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, chimed in with the characterization that the bill is "a pipe dream." House conservatives say the Senate approach makes gaining citizenship too easy and isn't punitive enough on immigrants living here illegally now.

For this, essentially for a matter of degrees on both points, they are willing to advance the impression of a do-nothing Congress and risk the future influence of their party.

They should think again. If they do, they'll recognize as Kirk did that this bill "will restore the people's trust in our ability to control the border and bring 525,000 people in Illinois out of the shadows. (It) secures our border and respects our heritage as an immigrant nation."

The House's open hostility to such an important bill does a great disservice to the notion of cooperative government and the spirit of bipartisanship that all politicians constantly applaud. Worse, it threatens to add years to the already-too-lengthy wait for meaningful immigration reform.

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