No leadership on immigration

It's getting tougher to keep hope alive for comprehensive immigration reform. Kansas' GOP candidates for Congress, like those around the country, have talked a lot about keeping illegal immigrants out, little about what to do with the millions already here.

"Secure the border" and "build the fence," they say — without much regard for whether that might be practical or effective, given the tenacity of those drawn to this nation for its opportunity and liberty.

In the U.S. Senate primary, two sensible, compassionate positions held years ago by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard — that taxpaying undocumented workers be eligible for driver's licenses and that children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges — were harshly criticized by Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, and quickly disavowed by Tiahrt.

Meanwhile, nobody wants to talk seriously about the reality of undocumented residents, the vast majority of whom stay out of trouble and contribute to our economy.

One such immigrant is 20-year-old Ricardo Quinones, a Johnson County Community College graduate and incoming University of Kansas junior who risks deportation since his recent arrest at a demonstration in Washington, D.C., in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (or DREAM Act).

It's easy to say people like Quinones should be sent "home." But Quinones and many others have known no other home except the United States.

Some 65,000 undocumented youths graduate from U.S. high schools each year to uncertain futures. With the DREAM Act, earlier versions of which were supported by Tiahrt and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., kids who've been in the country since they were younger than 16 could pursue a path to citizenship by spending two years in college or the armed forces.

Quinones told the Lawrence Journal-World that he came to the United States with his parents as an ill 6-month-old. He cannot qualify for federal loans or grants. He cannot attend a public university in Missouri, where he has lived, because of a state law requiring proof of citizenship for students. He's been working in construction to afford out-of-state tuition at KU.

"I am tired of being told I don't belong here," Quinones said last month. "This is my home. This is my country. I believe passing the DREAM Act will show that our society doesn't believe in criminalizing children for the decisions of their parents."

That's just common sense, or should be.

The federal government isn't going to deport nearly 11 million people, which would be like trying to eject the entire populations of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Where are the leaders with the courage to acknowledge that illegal immigration is bigger than border security? Don't politicians realize that while they're pandering and failing to act constructively, lives hang in the balance?