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Originally published January 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 2, 2006 at 12:43 PM

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Editorial

Immigration bill only a half measure

The immigration-reform bill the U.S. House passed last month is half-baked — and, if passed by the full Congress, could devastate...

THE immigration-reform bill the U.S. House passed last month is half-baked — and, if passed by the full Congress, could devastate parts of the nation's economy.

While it promises a major crackdown on illegal immigration both at the border and in the interior, the bill does almost nothing about why people sneak into the United States: jobs and better wages than in Mexico or other countries where the people come from. Employers need the workers — and hire them. Even with as many as 11 million foreign-born people living in the United States without legal authorization, the nation's unemployment rates are low.

Sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 contains no accommodation for industries that, for better or worse, have come to rely heavily on unauthorized workers.

Under the bill, the government would increase border patrols further and build a 700-mile border fence. The measure also contains troubling provisions that deputize local law-enforcement officers to enforce federal law and round up illegal residents, and criminalizes assistance for the interlopers. The chance of a priest or doctor facing up to five years in prison especially doesn't sit well with churches and immigration groups whose beneficiaries include undocumented people.

Missing from Sensenbrenner's bill is a legal guest-worker program. With only enforcement and no accommodation of economic realities, industries such as agriculture and construction will get stuck with apples left on trees or buildings unfinished.

President Bush, once a governor of a border state, supports a guest-worker program but with no path to citizenship; Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., do, too, but with provisions for workers presently here illegally eventually to earn a path to citizenship. The rationale is that the guest-worker program in combination with stricter enforcement will diminish incentives for illegal immigration.

Opponents dismiss McCain's bill as another "amnesty," but it takes responsibility for government's failure to enforce existing immigration laws, permitting an underground market for illegal labor to flourish.

Washington Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris, who represent the state's two most agrarian districts, voted for Sensenbrenner's bill even though both support a guest-worker program in concept. They acknowledge this bill's approach makes for a job only half done.

The Senate is poised to take up immigration reform early this year, but it should address the whole picture. Better enforcement must be part of immigration reform. But a one-sided approach that doesn't consider the economic ramifications on businesses and whole communities is bound to fail.

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