Senate Immigration Bill

With something as gooey as Latin American immigration reform, we can't expect to hear a snap, crackle, and pop. It takes time.

But as I munched on this morning's cereal, I reminded myself of the happy sounds of political progress we hear emerging from Capital Hill.

Yesterday, the Senate approved a multi-faceted immigration bill. The bi-partisan vote (62-36) tells us more about the sunny future of American politics (yes, I said “sunny”) than the final outcome of the problems on our Southern border. A significant swath of competing politicians bound together around an issue in an election year. If in the past I have lambasted unprincipled politicking, today I must tip my hat to a few men and women who preferred statesmanship to partisan convenience, even if it oozed out of them slower than honey from a honey bear on a wintry weather day.

Wisdom requires looking back. Had they given credence to some vociferous T.V. and radio talking heads, senators would have had but two choices: open the floodgates, or build a wall. Offer indiscriminate amnesty or send them packing — all of them.

I must admit, it is tempting to talk like that. When we media people do, people call in to say how great we are. And talk about a fan base! That's the way to build it. If night after night we repeat the same facile principle, with new and improved rhetoric, we connect with a certain percentage of the population eager for a hero to advance their single cause. It needn't be a big percentage, just bigger than the other guy on the other channel. “Look tough. Don't compromise.”

Some senators, on the other hand, aware of the real possibility of making no progress on our immigration status quo, were tough enough to compromise personal opinion on non-essentials to lead the country forward.

The bill looks like this:

Border Control
• About 6,000 National Guard troops will be sent to the border on a temporary basis.
• 1,000 new Border Patrol agents will be added this year, and 14,000 by the year 2011.
• New surveillance equipment will be installed.
• 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers will be built.

Illegal Immigrants Already in the U.S.A.
• Illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years can remain in the country and apply for a temporary work permit. Eventually they will be able to apply for citizenship. They must pay at least $3,250 in fines and fees, settle back taxes, and learn English.
• Illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than two years but less than 5 years would be required to travel to a border crossing before seeking the temporary work permit.
• Illegal immigrants in the country for less than two years would be required to leave with no guarantee of return.

Employer's Responsibility
• A new electronic system for employee verification will be implemented to hold employers accountable for hiring decisions. It foresees a $20,000 maximum fine per worker and jail time for repeat offenders.

The bill, in my opinion, is an imperfect one. It doesn't address the root causes of immigration. It doesn't guarantee a secure border. The three-tiered system of dealing with illegal immigrants already present in the U.S. is complicated at best and impractical at its worst.

But yesterday was an all-around victory for America. We are now a step ahead of where we were yesterday. A significant swath of competing politicians bound together to move forward a compelling issue. And they did all of this in an election year.

That's representative democracy making its way through a whole lot of humanity.

The Senate must now wrangle with the House of Representatives to reconcile their conflicting bills. We hope and pray they too will seek a victory beyond the tinsel of regional voting booths. The sunny future of American politics depends on it.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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