Late-night wiseguy Stephen Colbert got most of the bump from testifying recently at a House subcommittee hearing on immigrant labor. But anyone for whom Colbert's antics weren't enough could have caught plenty of verbal punching and slapping from members of Congress and witnesses who weren't funning at all.
Such as when Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain complained that Democrats' "definition of comprehensive immigration reform... just seems to be about amnesty."
At which Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, took offense and said she surely knew better than to throw around that word.
It was clear that Swain is frustrated by a situation in which half to three-quarters of the workers picking crops in the United States are illegal immigrants working for ridiculously low wages under woeful conditions, with employer sanctions not harsh enough to stop those who exploit the system.
Seems that the system's many flaws were the reason for holding the hearing in the first place.
Swain raised some other points worth exploring, such as that unemployment rates are exceedingly high among low-skilled blacks and Hispanics and that sometimes they end up competing for jobs against immigrants who leave backbreaking field work for other industries.
But her claim that the Obama administration has "essentially ended workplace enforcement" of laws against hiring undocumented workers would come as a surprise to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Napolitano told editorial writers gathered in Dallas that since January 2009, more than 2,700 employers have been audited and $40 million in penalties assessed for immigration violations — more than during eight years under President Bush.
Napolitano, a former U.S. attorney and governor of Arizona, also talked about ways in which the Obama administration has bolstered border security: 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 1,200 National Guard troops in place; most of the $5 million in fencing built; 170,000 convicted criminal aliens removed from the country this year.
While reform must include more enforcement tools, improved visa laws and a more efficient legal immigration process that doesn't leave people who follow the rules waiting interminably, Napolitano said, it should also incorporate "a firm but fair way... to earn legal status."
"We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of laws. These are two traditions that we need to uphold," she said.
The difficulty, of course, is devising a system that strikes the right balance, that's fair and that meets the nation's needs.
At last month's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law, Phil Glaze of the U.S. Apple Association said his main objective is to secure a reliable, skilled and legal work force to make sure that crops get picked on time and apple production doesn't get outsourced.
United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said the solution is to let undocumented workers who already harvest American fruits and vegetables seek green cards to gain legal status.
Swain called the notion that undocumented farmworkers are essential because of a labor shortage "a manufactured crisis" and advocated recruiting unemployed U.S. citizens for the jobs.
If the various sides will listen carefully to one another, they'll see they agree on some fundamental points: that employers shouldn't be able to hire and exploit cheap, illegal labor; that workers should have decent wages and tolerable conditions; that businesses need a reliable labor pool so jobs and production remain in the United States; and that immigration must not have more incentives to flout the rules than to follow them.