Immigrant bill should balance enforcement, compassion
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says a bill concerning immigration reform will be considered in about two weeks.
ALTHOUGH HUGE, peaceful and family oriented, Monday's nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" marches might have little -- or even negative -- effect on congressional action to put many illegal aliens on the road to citizenship. The Senate must overcome a backlash in favor of turning illegal aliens into felons.
Hispanic groups led the protests and comprised most of the marchers, primarily in Chicago and Los Angeles. Few demonstrators appeared outside the state Capitol in Honolulu. Hawaii is home to an estimated 9,000 illegal aliens, mainly farm laborers on Maui and the Big Island.
Signs carried in Chicago read, "Today we march, tomorrow we vote," but politicians might not be worried. Of course, illegal aliens cannot vote, and only 47 percent of eligible Latino voters cast ballots in the last election, compared to two-thirds of whites and 60 percent of blacks, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
A day after the rally, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist promised to support enactment of "comprehensive reform that starts by tightening our borders -- border security first and foremost." He said legislation should bring illegal immigrants "out of the shadows, short of amnesty, but treat them in a fair and compassionate way."
Those words distort the issue. Frist has opposed a Senate bill that would allow undocumented workers to apply for visas, pay fines totaling $2,000 and be given temporary work authorization. They would stand in line behind immigrants who entered the United States legally and wait as long as a decade for green cards -- permanent residency -- on the path to citizenship. That is compassion short of amnesty.
In contrast, the House last year approved a bill that would turn all illegal aliens into felons and build nearly 700 miles of border fences in California and Arizona at a cost of $3.2 billion. Both the House and Senate bills would crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants by requiring them to use an electronic system to check Social Security or worker identification numbers of their employees.
Unfortunately, public opinion polls reveal a difficult task in enacting compassionate legislation. A Rasmussen Poll last week indicated only 26 percent of Americans viewed the protests favorably while 56 percent did not. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 17 percent thought they would help the immigrants' cause and 57 percent said they would hurt the cause.
Members of Congress on both sides of the issue said the protests might have had a polarizing effect and reported that most of their calls were from people opposed to legalizing undocumented aliens. They must shield themselves from such emotional reactions and focus on fair and thoughtful solutions.