Jumpstarting reform

November 29, 2005

President Bush's renewed call yesterday for a guest worker program should prod Congressional lawmakers to refocus on immigration reform. However, he faces an uphill battle in a divided Congress and within his own party, where there is opposition to the proposal that would allow immigrants to work legally in the U.S. for temporary periods.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bush should put what political capital he has left behind this issue. The stakes are too important for any more delay. The population of undocumented immigrants has swelled past 10 million; job-seeking migrants continue to cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico; and American employers are desperate to fill low-wage jobs that Americans shun. Despite the tenfold increase in the border patrol's budget since 1986, the prospect of jobs is still a more powerful draw for migrants than the threat of capture is a deterrent. The nation's immigration policy has to reflect these realities.

Although the White House has been courting lawmakers who support the president's plan and trying to build support among Republicans who oppose expansion of current immigration policies, Mr. Bush has not been a consistent cheerleader for his plan. He allowed political pressure to force him to back down from a provision that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to legalize their status. Fortunately, a bipartisan proposal in the Senate includes legalization along with strong border-security measures. The legislation incorporates much of Mr. Bush's plan and deserves congressional support.

Speaking from the Arizona border yesterday, Mr. Bush outlined steps the Department of Homeland Security has taken to protect the borders, including using more technology to intercept crossers increasing detention space to hold more of those captured, and repatriating those apprehended to the interior of Mexico and away from border towns where they are likely to cross into the U.S. again. These measures make sense, but they will be ineffective without a guest-worker plan that lets immigrants work here without risk of arrest and deportation, and lets federal authorities keep track of them.

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