Immigration reform now

  • Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Immigration is a national issue. But it’s also a state and local issue. And effective immigration reform is an overdue need on all three levels.

The misguided notion that comprehensive immigration reform is a purely left-wing cause was debunked again Monday when a diverse coalition of South Carolina business and faith leaders went to Washington to support it.

Realists charge, with some validity, that business organizations like the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce support immigration reform in part to assure cheap labor.

However, sustaining an available — and yes, affordable — workforce is a legitimate concern for the business community, including the agriculture and construction sectors that have long depended on immigrant labor.

Plus, as Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston chamber, told our reporter, immigration reform isn’t just about low-wage workers: “It’s about talent at all different levels,” including high-tech fields.

The S.C. contingent, which includes Metro Chamber business advocacy director George Ramsey, is affiliated with “Americans for Reform.”

It is meeting with members of the South Carolina congressional delegation to press for “meaningful immigration reform this year.”

That means an overhaul of a long-broken system. That means the federal government finally fulfilling its duty to secure the southern border.

And that means creating a pathway to legal status, and even citizenship, for illegal immigrants to meet strict requirements, including getting a job and paying a fine.

OK, so getting a “meaningful reform” bill through the House before year’s end will be a steep climb. But with congressional elections looming next year, there’s no time like to the present to take on this challenge.

The Democratic Senate did pass a sweeping immigration bill in June by an impressive 68-32 margin, with 14 Republicans — including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Florida’s Marco Rubio — joining the majority.

But the Republican House has some changes in mind for that legislation. And there’s still a bitter partisan hangover from this month’s Capitol Hill brawl over the partial shutdown of the federal government and the near miss of the deadline for raising the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did say last week that immigration reform is “an important subject that needs to be addressed.”

Yet as Sen. Rubio put it in an interview published by the Tampa Bay Times on Monday: “We’ve been lectured for the better part of a month now how we need to be realistic, that Barack Obama was not going to repeal Obamacare. Likewise, I think supporters of immigration reform need to be realistic. The House is just not going to jump on board whatever the Senate passes.”

Clearly, Sen. Rubio is now reaching out to compromise with GOP House members who have taken a hard line on immigration.

And Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., will introduce a bill of his own this week, aimed at allowing illegal immigrations to “come from the shadows” and eventually into legal status.

Rep. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, correctly warned last week:

“I think if we’re going to break this logjam that’s occurred for my whole 13 years I’ve been in Congress, we have to find middle ground.”

Some hard-right critics of reform proposals condemn them as “amnesty.”

But if some path to legal status isn’t included in reform, we will be stuck with the unsustainable status quo. And that wouldn’t just be bad for business.

It would be bad for America — and South Carolina.

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