- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

It would be wrong to judge the importance of immigration reform by the smaller crowds gathered at the rallies this year as compared with last year. After promising larger, more robust demonstrations of national support this past “May Day,” organizers in support of sensible and comprehensive immigration reform had to find words to explain why so few people showed up. The answer is simple: fear.

One year after hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers went to the streets to demand fairness and respect for their contributions to American society, a much smaller group mustered the courage to show up on the Mall near the U.S. Capitol. Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, could have used a larger show of support to help gain momentum for his comprehensive reform bill. But some would-be protestors, unfortunately, feared being rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who have seized more than 220,000 illegal immigrants in deportation raids this year alone. This represents a 20 percent increase over last year sending new terror through immigrant communities.

These raids, as exemplified by the March 6 raid on a Massachusetts leather factory that resulted in deportation of 361 undocumented workers, do nothing more than rip families apart. With about 11 million to 12 million undocumented workers within U.S. borders, deportation is no solution, and causes great chaos, desperation and fear.

Undocumented workers aren’t fleeing for the border to avoid deportation; they are hiding. They are scared to go to work, knowing that if their company is raided, it could be weeks, months, years or perhaps never before they get to reunite with their families. All this the raids, shattering of families, the bullheaded and ignorant tarring of people who favor sensible immigration reform with the label of “amnesty proponent” is a result of overzealous politicians desperate to look as if they’re doing something. Well, sometimes nothing is better than something.

The Wall Street Journal, a notoriously conservative publication, said the reform President Bush proposes is “worse than no reform at all.” It continues, “The proposal is unduly restrictive and thus probably unworkable,” because “such measures (including $3,500 in fines and fees for a three-year visa, renewable only once for an additional $3,500, and more than $10,000 additionally to become a permanent resident) all but guarantee low compliance.”

If that weren’t enough, “its anti-family provisions would end the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents, children and siblings for immigration,” meaning even more families are split and scattered to the wind. It concludes that “any policy overhaul that provides little incentive for illegals in the U.S. to acknowledge their status, and then prices legal entry out of reach for most future workers, is likely to increase illegal immigration.”

As Mr. Kennedy noted, “We face a critical choice between a future as a nation of immigrants, or a future measured by higher walls and longer fences.” Enforcement alone fences, patrol, guards and punishment is no solution.

A solution must include all three parts of Mr. Kennedy’s plan: (1) tough border enforcement, (2) an earned legalization program and (3) a temporary-worker program. “To restore the integrity of America’s immigration system, all three steps must be implemented at the same time. The only realistic way to regain control of our borders is to combine stronger enforcement with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who are now here, and a realistic temporary-worker program that includes the possibility of citizenship,” says Mr. Kennedy.

Some issues cry out for leadership, while others just become part of the poisonous political environment. Immigration is now an issue with many dimensions, all of which demand bipartisan leadership and action.

As a national policy matter, it needs to be addressed because our broken system undermines the rule of law, hurts workers, exploits immigrants, injures honest employers and roils communities. As a political matter, it divides both parties but is a defining issue for the fastest-growing group of new voters up for grabs in 2008. And now it is a common challenge for the Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House, which are better at partisan infighting and finger-pointing than at solving tough problems on a bipartisan basis.

The consequences of inaction are too grave. Failure to solve the immigration problem will hurt the presidential candidates who seem reluctant to tackle the issue. It is time to get out from behind the desk and step up. Share credit. Solve the problem. Restore the rule of law to immigration, and restore some measure of confidence among voters that the parties can rise above partisanship and risk averse sloganeering to actually put this problem to rest.

Let’s stop breaking up families and find a sensible, fair and humane way to treat each other.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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