Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Hope Exists for Immigration ‘Down Payment’

As policy matters, both measures make eminent sense. It’s pure madness that the nation is denied the service of illegal immigrants who want to join the military.

And it’s a waste of human talent — and simple cruelty — to depress the life chances of young people because their parents brought them to the U.S. illegally.

Meantime, up to 75 percent of the people working on farms in the U.S. — particularly picking fruits and vegetables — are here illegally. It’s hot, back-breaking, low-wage work that American citizens almost certainly won’t do.

The AgJOBS bill also would create a channel for foreign farmworkers to enter the U.S. temporarily. About 200,000 now enter illegally each year — and many stay because border enforcement has stiffened.

According to grower organizations, without adequate labor, crops are rotting, farms are closing down and food imports are increasing, costing jobs in farm-related industries.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, when the nation invited temporary farm workers through the bracero program, illegal immigration plummeted. Then it surged when the program was canceled in 1960 owing to union opposition.

In 2004, an AgJOBS bill had 12 Republicans among its 62 co-sponsors, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and John Ensign (Nev.).

This year’s bill has only one Republican, Lugar, although there are 11 Republicans in the Senate who have voted for immigration reform in the past. They include retiring Senators such as Judd Gregg (N.H.), George Voinovich (Ohio), Bob Bennett (Utah) and Sam Brownback (Kan.), plus John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

The business community — not only agribusiness, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and high-tech industries — ought to lobby Republicans to make a down payment on wider reform that might include more H-1B visas for high-skilled workers and green cards for science graduates.

Republican presidential candidates have an interest in getting the divisive immigration issue “off the table” for 2012 and stopping the party’s hemorrhage of Hispanic voters. So do party luminaries such as Jeb Bush.

Obama ought to be in the lead working on legislative strategy — partly to repair his own reputation with Latinos disappointed at his failure to push comprehensive reform.

The “down payment” strategy will hardly fix America’s broken immigration system, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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