Modesto Bee: It's time to reach immigration deal

Apr 11, 2013 Issues: Immigration

last updated: April 02, 2013 08:43:28 PM

Republicans and Democrats working on an immigration overhaul bill missed their goal of unveiling a draft by March. Now they hope to present a bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee by April 8, when they return from a two-week recess.

But members of the so-called Gang of Eight in the U.S. Senate are sending mixed signals about whether they have a compromise that can earn sufficient support to pass.

Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Florida, one of the eight, indicated that he plans to slow the process and open it to amendments. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, another one of the gang, told The New York Times: "2013 is the best chance to have a comprehensive immigration bill that I've seen … I am confident."

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, expressed similar optimism Tuesday afternoon at a so-called listening session at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto. He heard from dozens of residents wanting reform.

We hope that all of the federal representatives — Republican and Democrat — will get the message that the public wants some sort of resolution and not a repeat of 2007.

Of course, no one will get all they want out of an immigration package. But too often we see politicians refusing to accept a reasonable compromise because they cling to one small piece of the big puzzle, in part to appease only one interest group among their constituents. There are numerous contentious pieces on immigration, most notably:

• The position that they will agree to broader immigration measures only if the southwestern border is "truly secure." Twenty years ago, we had 3,500 Border Patrol agents at the southwestern border. Today, we have more than 18,500, plus 651 miles of fencing. And yet people still enter illegally. The border never can be perfectly sealed, so we never get to next steps.

• Guest-worker programs or other forms of legal entry, not just for agriculture but also for other low-skilled jobs, such as landscaping, housekeeping, dishwashing and construction

• How many and what kinds of obstacles should be put on the path to legal residency and-or citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been here for years and have been living as law-abiding residents. One extreme conservative view is that their mere presence is a criminal act, so illegal immigrants must be shipped back to their country of origin. That is impractical as well as heartless.

Despite the rhetoric, there are several things working in favor of getting a broad immigration reform measure through, including the Republicans' desire to appeal to more Latino voters — who were key to President Barack Obama's re-election — and a strong push from business and corporate leaders to get something done.

Later this week, an unusual coalition of faith, business, agriculture and civic leaders in Orange County will stage a rally. Their message, as explained in an announcement Tuesday, sums up our view and we think that of many others: "We are united in our message that the immigration system has failed. Now is the time to resolve differences and solve this problem in a sensible way."

Finally, changes in migration trends make this an opportune time to deal with immigration. We now have net-zero migration from Mexico. And, no, this is not just because of the downturn in the U.S. economy or fear of drug cartel violence on the Mexico side of the border.

Researchers, includingJ. Edward Taylor at the University of California at Davis, conclude that those recent factors are secondary. We are seeing a permanent shift in the migration dynamic.

Women in Mexico are having fewer children — with birth rates dropping from 6.8 children per woman in 1970 to a little more than two today. That means fewer young workers entering the work force. They are better educated. On top of that, Mexico's economy is stronger, providing opportunities for higher-wage work than in the past.

This long-term structural change adds up, writes Taylor and his colleagues, to a "permanent supply shift" in migration to the United States, resulting in the "fields of gray" that Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht described in a story that appeared on our front page March 10. The children of farmworkers who arrived decades ago have little interest in field work, and fewer immigrants are coming to the United States for farm work. The result: Ag producers expect a worker shortage.

It truly is time for members of Congress, the Senate and the president to work it out on immigration.