Eagle editorial: Reform immigration

There were no Kansans among the eight U.S. senators who unveiled a bipartisan overhaul of the immigration system Monday. But it was a good sign that members of the Kansas delegation and many other Republicans in Congress chose to reserve judgment, rather than pre-emptively condemn either the Senate proposal or the plan that President Obama touted Tuesday.

This might actually work.

“I’m glad that we are finally taking steps to address our broken immigration system,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, in a statement that expressed approval of the proposal to strengthen border security and enforcement.

That’s the spirit needed to turn what’s been a politicized exercise in futility into a productive reality that will acknowledge those already here and able to contribute to the economy, while making it tougher for more to enter the country illegally.

In addition to stepping up border security and penalties for employers that knowingly hire undocumented residents, the Senate plan would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country and award green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from U.S. universities. Importantly for Kansas, it also would respond to the agricultural community’s need for immigrant labor where the American workforce falls short.

Obama’s ideas are similar, though he would move individuals who are granted work permits more quickly toward citizenship. The Senate plan puts more enforcement and other hurdles in the path of an aspiring new citizen, meaning a wait of as long as 15 years. Whatever reform that prevails needs to be faster not only to bring this population out of the shadows but to help those already queued up.

The nation’s approach to immigration since the failed reform six years ago has been a disaster, with states passing punitive laws and millions of undocumented residents remaining in limbo and in fear of seeing their families ripped apart.

It’s also been bad politics for Republicans, who need to be reaching out to Hispanic voters rather than pretending that “self-deportation” is a viable strategy for dealing with an undocumented population of 11 million. A key player going forward is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a party star with his own inspiring family story of immigration. He already had conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh telling him Tuesday that “what you are doing is admirable and noteworthy.”

This week’s new momentum on immigration reform even brought approving statements from both the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Sunflower Community Action – another good sign of how the stars may be aligning for an overhaul.

“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp,” the president said Tuesday.

Let’s hope so. The status quo is neither sustainable nor humane.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman