In Our View: Immigration Reform in '13?

Obama serious about change this year; with this Congress, we're not so sure

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When the national debate over immigration reached its zenith, The Columbian editorially supported three basic components of reform:

• Border security should be increased.

• Because it is impossible for the United States to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, many of those who have been here the longest should be allowed to stay, under certain conditions.

• Enforcement should be increased against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Unfortunately, that editorial was published before most of today's first-graders were born, on April 9, 2006.

Doubly frustrating, all three of those recommendations had been written into an immigration reform bill. However, that bill became toast in a congressional conflagration, and there has been no meaningful talk about immigration reform since then.

This issue is important in Washington , especially in the eastern half of the state where many immigrants support agricultural interests. As Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said, lo, those 6 1/2 years ago, "People want border security, and they also want to retain a workforce that's there, and they want a legitimate path to citizenship. We know immigrants are integral to our economy, whether it's high-tech workers in Seattle or agricultural workers in Yakima."

Fortunately, there is the reasonable hope that immigration reform could be addressed again this year, despite the widespread belief that this Congress will be no more productive than the last one.

Recently on NBC's "Meet the Press," President Obama said he is serious about immigration reform and will introduce an immigration reform bill this year. Perhaps this is the year that progress can be made toward changing our nation's bizarre and haphazard approach to dealing with illegal immigrants.

In a Wednesday editorial, the Dallas Morning News astutely pointed to former President George W. Bush's noble and valid attempt to change immigration laws back in 2006. Bush's efforts failed, the newspaper said, "because Senate Republicans balked. But the opposition didn't stop the Bush White House from fully engaging Congress, including recalcitrant Republicans. Obama may have a similar problem with his own party. The dirty little secret in the 2006 and 2007 immigration battles was that some Democrats were content to let Senate Republicans kill the effort. Labor-friendly Democrats didn't want a bill, either. And they may not want one this year. That reluctance is a major reason the president needs to invest in this fight. He must figure out how to bring enough Democrats along, while also reaching out to Republicans."

One possible tactic: Exhaust the combatants. Get the extremist conservatives and the far-left liberals so fatigued from fiscal fights, and they might just be more receptive to immigration reform.

Both parties should start by agreeing that the status quo is unacceptable. It's time for the one great nation — which has been a global beacon for centuries on the issue of immigration — to modernize the way it deals with visitors from other lands.