There must be some redeeming value in the immigration plan announced last week by the Congressional "Gang of Eight," because both liberals and conservatives are trying to pick it apart. That's one definition of compromise, in this case perhaps even an effective one.
Many Democrats insist the proposal is unfair to undocumented immigrants, placing upon them harsh requirements along a decade-or-more path to legal residency and citizenship. Many Republicans complain that border security is under-emphasized, and they quickly drape the "amnesty" shroud over the proposal. In a way, though, the status quo is amnesty, in a clumsy and unproductive way. Just about everyone agrees there's no way this nation can or will deport 11 million residents.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the long overdue immigration reform holds great importance, especially in the agriculture-dominated eastern half of our state. We're glad to see last week's plan include a gradual (five-year) phasing in of the requirement for employers to use E-Verify. This free, quick and accurate legal residency check has been embraced by the Department of Homeland Security.
On the other side of the Cascades, three newspapers have offered their own regionally based perspectives on immigration reform:
Spokane — U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was described by The Spokesman-Review of Spokane as having "the credibility to persuade 'Young Turk' conservatives who gained office in 2010 that reform is good for the party and the nation." That's because Labrador "is a former immigration lawyer and, as a recent National Journal article noted, his knowledge and Puerto Rican roots enable him to neutralize the immigrant-bashers in his caucus."
Wenatchee — The Wenatchee World pointed out that, despite complaints about amnesty, the details of such a procedure are "anything but lenient. Applicants will have to pass checks, pay fines and taxes, wait a decade and then 'go to the back of the line' for a green card." That's hardly the get-out-of-jail-free card that many critics describe.
Yakima — Three diverse opinions were presented by the Yakima Herald-Republic. Bob West of the conservative group Grassroots Yakima said last week's plan would allow immigrants to find jobs that U.S. residents could take. Proposed increases in border security would take too long to implement.
Maria Cuevas, Chicano studies professor in Yakima, noted that anyone who embarks on the 10-year provisional legal status (plus the path to citizenship) could work here but could not apply for federal benefits. That will benefit employers more than immigrants: "All the emphasis is on keeping people out but providing a more palatable way for employers to access immigrant labor," she said.
Mike Gempe, executive director of the Yakima-based Washington Grower's League, said the long path to citizenship is fair: "Citizenship is a big deal, and (with last week's proposal) it doesn't just get handed out. I don't think it's too long," Gempe said.
How these criticisms of the Gang of Eight's ideas are ultimately resolved is the giant question. But the encouraging sign is that discussions are gaining momentum. Meanwhile, we agree with this astute observation by the Spokesman-Review: "Our nation needs to resolve the contradictory 'Help Wanted' and 'Keep Out' messages we send across our borders. It isn't fair or productive to build wealth on the backs of undocumented workers and then deny them any way to keep their families together, share in the bounty and achieve legal status."