Thursday, June 7, 2007

A leadership vacuum

With 12 million undocumented workers living in the dark shadows in this country, who can argue that something has to be done. We've debated what is right and what is wrong for years, and it appeared that Congress was on the verge of starting the process of addressing the problem but the final result appears to be a colossal failure.

As today's New York Times editorial suggests, there were some draconian measures in the bill that were unpalatable to all, but that these could be addressed in future sessions of Congress where the law could have been amended and tweaked. Instead we end up with nothing, and for disgraceful reasons.

There were many provisions in this bill that I objected to. However, in leadership 101, the first rule is that a bad decision is preferable to no decision. Perhaps our representatives and our president missed that day of school in 9th grade.

A Failure of Leadership
The immigration compromise collapsed on the floor of the Senate Thursday night. Many of its hard-line foes are celebrating, but their glee is vindictive and hollow. They have blocked one avenue to an immigration overhaul while offering nothing better, thwarting bipartisanship to satisfy their reflexive loathing for amnesty, which they define as anything that helps illegal immigrants get right with the law.

The tragedy is that the compromise bill was written to bring these restrictionists along, with punitive, detestable provisions that many supporters of comprehensive reform agreed to endorse for the sake of a “grand bargain.” The bill was badly flawed but fixable, as long as there was the possibility of leadership and courage in Congress.
But obstruction happened. Republican amendments, designed to shred the compromise, happened.

Jeff Sessions wanted to deprive legalized immigrants — yes, legal residents — of the earned income tax credit, a path out of poverty for millions.

John Cornyn wanted to strip confidentiality protections for immigrants who apply for legal status, making them too frightened to leave the shadows.

Jim DeMint just wanted to kill the bill, so he voted for a volatile amendment whose substance he disagreed with. “If it hurts the bill, I’m for it,” he said.

Leadership was desperately needed to stop Republicans from dragging the bill off one of its pillars — the one that would put 12 million people on a path to legal status. It didn’t show up. Republicans who should have been holding their party and the deal together — President Bush, minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John Kyl — failed utterly.

The anti-immigrant hard-core — no amnesty today, no amnesty tomorrow, no amnesty ever — must not be allowed to hold the nation hostage. Like nativists of generations past, they think the country is being Latinized, and they fear it. The country is changing, but the way it always has, absorbing newcomers, shaping and being shaped by them, inexorably turning them, their children and grandchildren into Americans. Globalization has accelerated and complicated that upheaval, and decades of federal dithering have made things messy and chaotic.

Restoring order will be wrenchingly difficult, but it must be done. The country cannot leave an unlawful, chaotic system to fester, with legal immigration channels clogged, families split apart, crops rotting and state and local governments dreaming up ways to punish 12 million people whose identities are unknown to the authorities, and who aren’t leaving, no matter what Congress does. We cannot simply fortify a wall while continuing to extract cheap labor from cowering workers who risk death to get here. Inaction on immigration carries a brutally high price, but those on the phobic right are willing to mortgage their country’s future to pay it.....

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