I’m back at work and so is the U.S. Senate. The question is whether it will now take up where it left off before going into recess and finally pass a decent immigration reform bill?
President Bush, under pressure from anxious and poll-afflicted Republican lawmakers, waded directly into the debate Monday, saying he opposed deportation of undocumented workers already living here. With public opinion shifting in favor of some sort of practical compromise, and with the GOP facing a possible political Waterloo this fall, the President has reportedly been asked to try to urge his most recalcitrant fellow party-members to reach some sort of legislative resolution.
There’s much criticism that could and should be levelled at Bush on this issue — mostly that the President will not be specific in spelling out what sort of deal he wants from Congress. But even some major Latino groups are applauding some of the general principles he put forward. Say what you will about Bush — and that could take days or even months– but, fortunately, he’s no Pete Wilson on this issue:
”I know this is an emotional debate,” Bush told the Orange County Business Council. ”But one thing we can’t lose sight of is that we are talking about human beings, decent human beings.”
That’s light years’ progress from the “they keep coming” mantra of last decade — one chanted incessantly not only by the likes of Wilson, but also by many Democrats including Dianne Feinstein. Indeed, writing over the weekend in the Orange County Register, Tamar Jacoby concluded that “no matter what happens now” we have been witnessing a year of “historic progress” on demystifying and de-stigmatizing the realities of immigration reform. For the first time that many of us can remember, there are now measurable voter majorities in favor of reform. Says Jacoby:
Both Democrats and Republicans face a moment of truth. In the best of all worlds, GOP reformers – Sens. John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Mel Martinez, President Bush and others – would continue to push for change that puts their party on the right side of history. And Democrats – the strongly pro-reform Sen. Edward Kennedy, but also others like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who until now has seemed determined to block Republican-led progress at all costs – would come together to join the fight. The Republicans would bring momentum, and the Democrats would keep them honest, making sure that whatever passes isn’t just a package that looks good on paper, but one that actually works to solve the problem on the ground.
The main obstacle will be the prospect of having to reconcile whatever comes out of the Senate with the unrealistic and unworkably punitive House bill – a prospect that could convince reformers, particularly Democratic reformers, that stalemate in the Senate is the safest option. These doubters aren’t wrong about the House bill or the dangers lying in wait in a House-Senate conference. Still, the changing political climate is affecting the House, too. The White House would have powerful cards to play in any conference. And given the political forces aligned for change, it would be a bitter shame if stalemate turned out to be best the Senate could do.
What Jacoby ask for is a tall order — a Congress, a White House and the two major parties acting to do the right thing instead of what any of them sense to be politically expedient. It’s important we all remember what is at stake here; not just the scoring of this or that partisan point but rather the lives and futures of millions of hard-working human beings. Ordinary people just like you and me.