Immigration Reform Important for U.S. Policy — and Politics

The happy and powerful do not go into exile,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant visitor from France who struggled to understand the dynamic new American nation nearly two centuries ago. His 1830s visit to the United States, and the book that resulted, “Democracy in America,” speak directly to our highly emotional, politically driven controversy over illegal immigration.

This current mean debate reflects an ugly streak in American history, but that is only one part of our heritage. Bellicose White House posturing, and lack of sustained work with Congress, shows the cynical motives involved.

Undocumented workers perform a large share of difficult and unpleasant manual labor that others in our great country tend to avoid today. Events only a few years ago provide a responsible example of how to address reform. This recent history contributes some useful clarity.

In January 2013, President Barack Obama publicly praised the cooperative initiative of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to update our tangled and disorderly immigration laws, regulations and practices.

Obama spoke in Las Vegas, a rapidly growing city with a large immigrant population, both legal and illegal. Substantial numbers of immigrants work in the hotel and related service industries, one of the few sectors of the American economy where union strength is growing.

U.S. Senators passed legislation that increased border security, penalties for employers hiring illegal immigrants and an orderly path toward legal residence and citizenship to help undocumented residents “get on the right side of the law.” Obama rightly termed this approach “common sense.”

In the Senate, Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, spearheaded immigration reform. Rubio, a presidential contender in 2016, is a conservative with strong Tea Party support. Florida has been pivotal in recent presidential elections, especially in 2000.

Schumer is now Senate Democratic leader. His prominence underscores the bipartisan character involved, plus adding geographic diversity, joining the Northeast of the country with the Sunbelt. The earlier effort died in the Republican House of Representatives, but Democrats are now the majority.

By Arthur I. Cyr for CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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