In Our View: Immigration Reform Overdue

Focus on guiding principles and leave the details up to Congress

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Immigration reform remains little more than an elusive goal, even as the public pushes for meaningful action in 2013 by a deeply divided Congress. The only thing conservatives and liberals agree on is that the nation's broken immigration system must be repaired. But too often the discussion is bogged down in disputes over minutiae. Politicians cannot see the forest because they are hyperventilating about the trees.

In our state, a coalition of agriculture, business and faith groups have tried to kick-start immigration reform by focusing on the forest. Intentionally and perhaps even admirably, their document — the "Washington Compact" — eschews details. Instead, it wisely focuses on five guiding principles. Sorting out the trees and finalizing details are tasks left to Congress. This compact resembles similar recommendations crafted by collaborative groups in Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Utah and Colorado. Signatories of our state's version include the Washington Association of Business, the Washington Growers League and the King County sheriff.

The compact resembles the three-point stance taken by The Columbian seven years ago, when we editorialized that immigration reform must: (1) recognize that border security must be increased, (2) abandon any intent to accomplish the impossible task of deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States and (3) increase penalties against employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

The five guiding principles of the Washington Compact essentially are (1) immigration reform is a federal (not state) responsibility (2) local law enforcement should be left to focus on criminal activities and not federal civil violations (3) policies that unnecessarily separate family members should be avoided (4) reform must preserve national and state economies, particularly in Washington, where agriculture interests rely so heavily on immigrant workers and (5) assimilation of immigrants into the American mainstream society should be encouraged while still respecting diversity and preserving the unique distinctions of various cultures.

The Washington Compact was written by leaders of the groups at a March 5 meeting in Yakima. In a March 12 column published in The Columbian, Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, pointed out that "even though 300,000 people in our state are unemployed, Central Washington growers could not find enough workers last year to harvest their crops. With no one to bring in the harvest, fruits and vegetables were left to rot in the field."

That example is why immigration reform is so important to agriculture and the economy in Washington. But it's also important to our state's humanitarian interests, the need to keep families together whenever possible. The Washington Compact's overt interests can be simply stated: Make it harder for people to immigrate illegally, and make it easier for people to immigrate legally. Meeting that goal, however, is as difficult as … well, getting members of Congress to agree on anything these days.