Many reasons to back immigration reform

For the first time in almost two decades, the United States is in serious talks about immigration reform. Republicans and Democrats are working across the aisle on a plan supported by the formerly opposing interests of business and labor. Congress could vote later this spring.

Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bombing doesn’t derail this encouraging progress.

Even as the events in Boston unfolded last week, the U.S. Senate began hearings on a proposal crafted by the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators. The plan, tied to improved border security, would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for people who live in the country illegally.

Meaningful reform finally began to look possible when politicians saw the advantages of breaking the long-time stalemate and when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agreed on the elements of a workable system.

Republicans need to attract Latino voters. Business – such as our state’s orchard industry – needs a workforce. Labor wants to protect U.S. workers. This perfect storm of self-interests has created an opportunity that Congress should seize.

But those who have used fear-mongering to delay immigration reform in the past, turned to last week’s bombing as another diversionary tactic. Sen. Chuck Grassley linked immigration to the acts of terrorism in Boston. Sen. Rand Paul wrote a letter asking the Senate to stop debate until “important national security questions” are answered.

The worst of the anti-immigration statements came from Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, who warned that al-Qaida was working with Mexican drug cartels to train terrorists “to come in and act like Hispanic (sic) when they are radical Islamists.”

Saner minds are prevailing, however. House Speaker John Boehner disagrees with his Republican colleagues that the bombing should delay the conversation. Boehner correctly suggested that immigration reform might assist national security efforts.

The Gang of Eight’s proposal requires four separate background checks of the estimated 11 million people who live here illegally on a path to citizenship. By knowing who they are and why they are here, authorities can better assess any risks.

The Senate proposal requires stricter worker verification rules and stronger border security. Moving forward on creating the pathway to citizenship depends on implementing the tough security measures, which includes a new system for monitoring entry and exit traffic at borders. There are also improved provisions for preventing the misuse of Social Security numbers.

These are sensible reforms, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Boston bombing. Representatives such as Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a former immigration lawyer of Puerto Rican heritage, is well-positioned to provide the level-headed thinking on immigration reform that our country needs right now.

When so much agreement exists over a previously contentious issue, Congress must ignore those who prey on our worst fears and instead fix our dysfunctional immigration system.