Sept. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Congress Must Stop Playing Immigration Fútbol

If the U.S. government were run by adults bent on problem-solving, Congress would have passed immigration reform by now.

Instead, Republicans and Democrats constantly play political fútbol with the issue. In this game, everyone is losing.

The most obvious losers are 12 million illegal immigrants living in constant fear of deportation or family separation and subject to exploitation. But they aren’t the only ones.

Because Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on reform, thousands of foreign scientists and engineers leave the country after earning degrees here and have to wait years hoping to return — depriving this country of their talent and purchasing power.

Cities and states all over the country are burdened with education, health and police costs associated with illegal immigration. A reform law might provide them with federal impact aid — and reduce the flow of undocumented workers — but Congress won’t pass one.

On top of it all, the federal government looks incapable of managing one of its bedrock responsibilities — controlling the country’s borders.

Presidents of both parties look impotent, the immigration issue gets more fractious by the year and, increasingly, state and local politicians decide they have to (or want to) take over what’s plainly a federal responsibility.

Even as they battle each other, both parties are losing, too. By demanding ever harsher enforcement measures, Republicans are kicking away support from Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.

And Democrats, by insisting on “comprehensive” reform to appease liberal and Latino activists, are losing the chance to enact incremental changes that might build a consensus for full reform.

It appears increasingly likely that President Barack Obama will fail to enact any reform bill this year despite having an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

He repeatedly promised Latino voters in 2008 that he’d push for a comprehensive reform bill in his first year in office, including setting most illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.

Instead, he put priority on health care, jobs and financial reform — and even announced on Air Force One that Congress probably lacked the “appetite” for immigration reform.

This failure — along with a rate of deportations as high as under President George W. Bush — has cost Obama support among Latinos while gaining him no credit among Republicans for stepped-up enforcement.

And what little chance of passing a bill there was this year may have been blown up by the Justice Department’s decision to sue Arizona for passing a law making illegal alien status a state crime.

The Obama case seems legally sound — no one would want New York, say, to enforce federal tax or environmental law — but it’s politically explosive, providing fodder for tea party activists and right-wing talk show hosts to denounce federal opposition to popular will.

Republicans were dug in before the lawsuit was filed, insisting that “securing the border” has to precede any other immigration reforms. They’ll be under even more pressure now.

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