Some conservatives are grousing that President Obama’s visit to the United States-Mexican border on Wednesday was merely a pander to win back disaffected Hispanic voters, whose support is desperately needed for Obama to win re-election. That’s quite possibly true. But it doesn’t mean Washington shouldn’t do immigration reform.
If Obama is pandering, then what to say about the border state politicos and their supporters, who peddle lies about immigrants, legal and illegal (anyone remember the popular campaign-season claim that Arizona had the second-highest kidnapping rate in the world?) and use an antiforeigner message to appeal to the conservative base? This isn’t about drumming up votes from Hispanics or those who think immigrants are taking over. This is about a sensible policy for a country whose strength is rooted in its diversity and immigrant roots. [Read more about immigration reform.]
There’s more agreement on the issue than one would conclude from the dialogue on the Internet and talk radio. No one wants people flooding over the border illegally. No one wants a new criminal element entering the country, particularly not those with terrorist sympathies. But there are also not many people who reasonably believe the borders should be forever shut to anyone wanting to live or work in the country that has billed itself as a land of opportunity and tolerance.
The Senate came tantalizingly close to approving an immigration overhaul bill in 2007. While the floor vote itself was not close, the issue was—when supporters failed to get near the number needed to invoke cloture and have an up-or-down vote, skittish lawmakers abandoned the politically volatile bill. The measure was not perfect, but it was a cooperative effort, brokered by such disparate political personalities as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and former Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. Everyone who helped write the bill hated something in it. That’s the way big legislation goes; grown-up lawmakers mentally play the Rolling Stones "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" when signing on to a sweeping policy package.
Kennedy, in leading the closed-door negotiations, started out in signature fashion. In a room full of people used to battling each other daily on the Senate floor, he had everyone in the room talk about how their families had come to America. We are all immigrants. And the congressional and administration descendants of those who founded and built this country ought to be able to figure out how to welcome, carefully and legally, the new immigrants who will make the nation even stronger.