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Local editorial

Immigration not a simple problem The Senate proposal is the better of the two now under consideration

As demonstrations go, the gathering in Alba Park Friday afternoon was not overwhelming. A couple hundred people, mostly but not all Hispanic, joined together to call for fair treatment for immigrants.

There's probably a simple reason that more didn't show up for the rally: They were working.

And that is an inescapable detail of the current immigration crisis. Hispanics and other immigrants are working and contributing members of this nation, this state and this community. Those pushing to wall off the United States and block immigration wrongly portray immigrants as an inordinate drain on social services, when in fact most immigrants are like most of the community. They work, they take care of their families and they want a decent future for their children.

There are two versions of immigration reform now making their way through Congress. In the House, a group of xenophobic conservatives has proposed making illegal immigration a felony and essentially wants to turn the United States into an armed camp determined to block the path of those who yearn to breathe free.

A Senate version has its flaws, but reflects a reality that includes the fact that an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now live in this country, many of them working in fields, factories, stores and other respectable businesses. Remove those workers from the equation and among the first victims will be those businesses who rely on the labor to get their work done.

Immigration is a sticky wicket, no doubt about it. Open the borders with no controls and it's almost certain a flood of people would head into the United States in search of better paying jobs and a better life. Wall off the borders and expel people who entered the country illegally and you create an economic and human tragedy.

— Neither of those is a reasonable solution because, much to the chagrin of the anti-immigrant crowd, this is not a simple issue.

Immigrants, yes, some of them illegal, are filling jobs that Americans often won't or can't take. If you think there's a surplus of qualified U.S. citizens waiting for jobs, you haven't talked to a business owner looking for qualified workers who can, among other things, pass a drug test.

But if we are to be a nation of laws, we can't look the other way while immigration laws are broken every hour of every day.

That's why we think the Senate proposal is worth pursuing. It would create a temporary worker program that includes tougher immigration policing, but also would permit those already working here illegally to obtain citizenship eventually. It's not a free ride: Illegal workers would have to register, pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and sign up for legal status.

That's not enough for the immigrant bashers/bigots, who seem to think that cutting off a workforce supply and creating a whole new class of felons would be a positive for the country. The truth is, it would be an embarrassment for this country, just as the antics of the anti-immigration crowd has proven to be an embarrassment for the Republican Party.

Both the Mexican and U.S. governments need to improve border controls or we will be revisiting this issue again in a few years. That enforcement, however, will cost money at a time that many of the same anti-immigrant politicians are vowing to cut taxes and reduce services. They can't have it both ways.

The decent and practical solution is to create a way for illegal immigrants to earn ' truly earn ' citizenship in this country and then for our leaders to spend the money necessary to enforce existing immigration laws.