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No perfect solution for illegal immigration
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


March 28, 2006

As Congress wrestles with reform of immigration laws, it has become clear that there's no good, single solution to the problem of illegal workers entering the country.

A House-passed bill greatly steps up border enforcement, but this would only slow, not stop, the flow, and, as with previous crackdowns, only move the problem elsewhere. In boasting of his own efforts, President Bush notes that during his term more than 6 million illegal border crossers have been caught and sent home, but this speaks more to the size of the problem than its solution.

There is no way we are going to round up and deport 10 million to 12 million people, the estimated size of the illegal population. Any meaningful reform has to address their presence.

And Congress should beware of enacting laws that authorities are unwilling or unable to enforce. This especially applies to penalizing employers for hiring illegals - up to $50,000 for each hire as stipulated in the House bill, and 10 years in prison under a bill by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Employers can and should verify the status of prospective employees - and an easily accessible national database would help - but they should not be in the position of enforcing immigration law.

In addressing immigration, the Senate, whose turn it now is, should be guided by several principles.

First, think about the immigrants we do want.

Even for the best and brightest, legal migration to the United States is a long, uncertain and humiliating process. It should be made quicker and more dignified for legal immigrants we believe will contribute to the country. The cap should be lifted on H-1B visas, basically for high-tech workers, and foreign students who come here and do well in select fields - math, science, engineering - should be encouraged to stay.

Guest-worker programs are an imperfect answer, but they do work after a fashion. But under current law, the workers can stay just 10 months. Only 66,000 foreigners a year use them, suggesting that many find it more advantageous to come in illegally. Two Senate bills would extend the time the guest workers could stay- one measure would offer three years, and be renewable; the other, six years. Either approach is preferable to the one we have now.

Finally, there has to be a way of regularizing the status of illegals who work hard and play by the rules, with the exception of being here illicitly, without making the process look like amnesty. Wholesale amnesty would only draw in even more illegal immigrants who figure that if they hunker down and wait long enough they'll eventually be OK.

The solution would seem to be setting high standards for legal status - a stiff background check, community recommendation and proficiency in English and at least a rudimentary knowledge of civics and U.S. history. The United States was founded on a clear set of ideals, and while we hope the newcomers do well, it is vital that they embrace those ideals.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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