First Posted: 1/15/2009
In the immigration debate, there is some agreement: Before the mess can be cleaned up, the leak has to be stopped.
On Monday night, President Bush announced the most powerful measure yet in getting the borders secured, the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops who will provide backup for the Border Patrol. Bush also said the nation would end its “catch and release” program, which effectively turns illegal immigrants away to invade our borders again.
Where the debate really begins is the discussion of what to do with as many as 12 million illegal immigrants who are already in our country, many of whom have planted deep roots while becoming part of our national fabric - even without the benefit of citizenship.
Bush and Democrats are taking a softer, more comprehensive approach, which is to give these people a path to citizenship that allows them to continue to live and work here through a guest-worker program. Bush, appealing to his conservative base that parts with him on this issue, reminded Americans that ours is a nation built on immigration, and that it will always draw people who want to share our freedom.
Bush's approach recognizes the impossibility of rounding up 12 million people and kicking them over the border, and the crippling effect doing so would have - if it were possible - on this nation's economy. It also provides a tracking system to enhance our national security.
Republicans, particularly in the House of Representatives, are taking a hard-line approach, a popular position that is convenient given that the GOP is facing the possible loss of Congress in November. They say that any program that doesn't punish these 12 million people for breaking our laws - and rewards then with a swifter path to citizenship - is only amnesty by another name. They would like to go after employers in an effort to dry up the jobs, which would send the illegals home, to the other side of a more secure border.
On Monday, Bush demonstrated some leadership - overdue as it was on this issue - by kicking the ball down the street. The next day, the Senate kicked it farther, passing legislation rejecting a call to secure the borders first and dealing with the millions of illegals later.
Bush faces a tougher test in the House, but in the end, immigration reform will come out of the Congress this year, and will be signed into law. When that happens, it will be a major victory not only for a president badly in need of one, but for this country.