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Published: Tuesday, 5/23/2006

Immigration feud

IMMIGRATION laws in the United States will never be overhauled unless the debate itself can be defined.

Like many emotionally charged issues, combatants in the controversy over illegal immigrants are rapidly firing past each other with arguments that miss the big picture entirely.

One who sees what both sides are missing is President Bush. The former Texas governor understands better than most the dual components of immigration policy that must be deliberated together.

The two keys to the discussion are border security and commerce: protecting the borders and providing corporations with abundant labor at low cost.

The President acknowledged as much in last week's prime time address to the nation. His point was to get combatants in the House and Senate on at least the same page with regard to the debate.

Until now, House Republicans have been arguing immigration reform in the sole context of border security and criminal penalties.

In the Senate, the issue has been bringing illegal aliens into the American fold.

And never the twain could meet in one debate until now - maybe.

By melding tougher border controls with reforms that would give millions of immigrants a chance to become U.S. citizens, the President crafted a sensible middle ground for immigration change.

With an estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants living under the radar in America, some solution apart from impractical mass deportations must be considered.

Discussion should center on for whom and under what circumstances would opportunities for legal residency or citizenship apply.

The process would be a path to amnesty for illegal immigrants, if you will, but for those who have spent years working here to establish a foothold for their families, it is a chance to legally belong.

A more temporary program for immigrants supported by the President recognizes economic reality with "guest worker" temporary visas.

Fact is, many menial labor jobs in this country would simply go unfilled if not for migrant workers. Why shouldn't they be allowed to take advantage of them through established protocol?

At the same time, the White House is keenly aware of the need to curb illegal immigration and the real problems it presents to states along the Mexican border. To that end the President has called for increased border security with the temporary deployment of National Guard units to the border, as well as more Border Patrol agents.

The administration sent a $1.9 billion request to Congress to pay for the additional manpower plus two new unmanned surveillance aircraft and five and helicopters to tighten border control.

The national debate over immigration reform seems to be coalescing in the Senate with legislation moving toward passage. While Senators are still firmly behind the idea of allowing millions of immigrants here illegally to stay and eventually become citizens, they struck a blow for border security with increased fencing.

But it is a different story in the House with its enforcement-only immigration measure passed last December.

Unless and until a conference committee of the two bodies can eventually agree on the boundaries of the deliberations, there's little chance of any immigration bill landing on the President's desk for signature.



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