With predictable regularity, TV news stories about immigration show video clips of barriers on the United State's southern border with Mexico. The northern border with Canada is consistently ignored. When was the last time you saw one of these televised reports with images of the Peace Arch on Interstate 5, which connects Blaine, Wash., and Surrey, B.C.? But recent good news that immigration reform might be accomplished by the new Congress profoundly impacts our state. The effects are seen at both the low- and high-income levels of the pay scale. A Tuesday editorial in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane explains: "Orchardists have complained of labor shortages for years, and the problem has worsened as improved border security cut off the flow of labor from Mexico and nations farther south. More and more fruit is falling to the ground — wasted — despite the adoption of more mechanized harvesting." Thus, the eastern half of the state yearns for immigration reform.
Also, though, according to the Spokane newspaper, "the state's high-tech industries have complained about their inability to recruit all the talent they need to achieve or maintain global leadership. Washington's universities award graduate degrees to many foreign nationals who might fill some of the available positions but for the limit on visas that would allow them to stay."
These foreign students, collectively, have become a handy cash cow for universities because of high out-of-state tuition. But then many graduates leave and, as the Spokesman-Review notes, they take "with them the state money invested in their education, and the skills and entrepreneurial drive that could create the next big thing."
Viewed through another perspective, immigration reform is not so much about the future and people from other countries; it's more about the not-so-distant past and American voters: About 70 percent of Hispanic voters on Nov. 6 favored President Barack Obama. Democratic politicians want to repay them for that loyalty. With equal fervor, conservatives in Congress seek to convert Hispanics to the Republican cause, thus to modernize and rebuild the party.
This convergence of parties around one issue was seen Monday when eight senators — four from each party — announced a united drive toward immigration reform, using many elements proposed previously by President Obama and President George W. Bush. The next day, Obama applauded and encouraged their efforts. And the day after that, on Wednesday, a half-dozen House members, three from each party, were reported to be nearing completion of a House bill that would resemble the Senate bill.
If only it were all that easy. Heavy opposition is expected, particularly from some House Republicans. "We've been down this road before with politicians promising to enforce the law in return for amnesty," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said this week. "The American people should not be fooled."
Others in the GOP feel differently. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said "it's time to deal with it. I said it the day after the election, I meant it. We're going to have to deal with it." Those words reflect a growing mood among Republicans who simply want this problem to go away. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said: "There are some who aren't wild about doing any of this, but even those that aren't wild about it are ready to see this in the rearview mirror."
Whatever the motivation, meaningful immigration reform will be as refreshing as it will be welcomed, here in Washington and in all other states.