Congress would have plenty to do even if it weren’t considering possible military intervention in Syria. Passing a budget and raising the nation’s debt ceiling are just two of the other urgent items on its agenda. Add to that the continued need for prompt, comprehensive immigration reform.
President Obama and lawmakers still face the challenge of providing a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants who are in this country illegally but want to become Americans. Most of these immigrants have lived and held jobs here for years; many of them are accomplished young people who were brought here by their parents as children.
The failing system of legal immigration also remains to be addressed. These problems won’t solve themselves in the absence of action by Congress.
Last June, the Senate passed a useful, bipartisan reform bill that would strengthen immigration enforcement and border security and create an effective guest-worker program. It would affect as many as 10,000 workers on farms and in related industries in Ohio and Michigan. Its provisions for legalizing undocumented immigrants have wide backing among Americans, and the measure probably would win House approval if it were permitted a vote there.
But leaders of the Republican-controlled House have refused to consider the Senate bill, which they falsely assert would provide “amnesty.” The Obama Administration’s enforcement policies have at times been overbearing, deporting almost 2 million immigrants — many low-level workers as well as criminals — since the President took office.
Yet House Republicans demand legislation that would allow state and local governments to set their own immigration policies, creating a national patchwork of different laws. That would turn police officers into immigration enforcement agents — something they are poorly equipped to do.
The Republican legislation would override President Obama’s humane policy of postponing the deportations of thousands of undocumented young people, brought here as children, who are studying in college or serving in the military. It would make crimes of immigration violations that are now civil offenses. It would strip temporary workers of basic rights and safeguards.
Such legislation is based on the delusion articulated last year by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that undocumented immigrants will “self-deport” voluntarily if they are just pushed hard enough and arrested often enough.
The legislation has no prospect of becoming law. But its advocates would rather have a hot-button political issue than a law that brings positive change.
Now the talk is of postponing consideration of immigration reform until the end of this year, or until next year — an election year that likely would preclude any bipartisan compromise.
That timetable won’t work. On this issue as on so many others, Congress needs to act now — not bluster and dither.