Kate Riley / Times staff columnist
Piecemeal immigration reform: scrambling to cover for Congress
Really. Who can blame Janet Napolitano? Last week, the Arizona governor signed a controversial bill aimed at cracking down on employers...
Seattle Times editorial columnist
Really. Who can blame Janet Napolitano?
Last week, the Arizona governor signed a controversial bill aimed at cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. Napolitano doesn't believe it is an appropriate role for Arizona, but felt she had no choice.
"Immigration is a federal responsibility," she wrote, "but I signed House Bill 2779 because it is abundantly clear that Congress finds itself incapable of coping with the comprehensive immigration reforms our country needs." She predicted other states will follow suit.
Not long odds on that prediction. In April, the National Conference of State Legislatures released a report showing that governments in all 50 states were considering 1,169 immigration-related bills. That's more than double the 570 introduced in all of 2006.
Congress appears ready to take a gutless pass on reforming seriously flawed U.S. immigration policy. About 12 million workers are believed to be in the United States without legal authority. Despite heroic efforts of a small bipartisan group of U.S. senators who cobbled together the best hope for sweeping immigration reform, leadership on both sides of the aisle failed to make it happen — twice.
Washington's Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell both voted to advance the bill to a vote.
The failure leaves officials in other states, from Utah to Iowa, hinting to local newspapers they are coming to the same conclusion as Napolitano.
This week, the elected supervisors for Virginia's Prince William County are expected to approve a law requiring police to check the residency status of people they stop at schools and county agencies, even the libraries.
Expect more local and state governments to do the same, says Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.
"That is going to be some of the ugly consequence of the bill not moving out of the Senate," she predicted. "The problem is not going away."
So far, in Washington, no specific plans are in the works for stop-gap measures, according to the offices of Washington's governor, Senate majority leader and speaker of the House. "We're not immigration agents," said Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.
And a citizens initiative that would have prohibited government benefits for illegal immigrants appears not to have collected enough signatures by Friday's deadline to make the ballot.
Still, Washington labors with serious challenges, not the least of which is the start of one of the nation's most diverse harvests — which long has relied on migrant workers from Latin America, many without legal status.
Labor shortages are emerging, following California's trend, where a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the labor shortage is estimated at between 20 and 30 percent below what is needed. That translates to crops left to rot and money not made.
Democrat Feinstein and Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho are joining forces to peel off one solution from the failed immigration-reform bill. Unlike the comprehensive bill with too many hot buttons to get around vocal special interests on all sides of the issue, Feinstein's and Craig's approach has a long history of wide support, in and out of Congress.
The Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act is the product of 10 years of negotiation between agriculture employers, the United Farm Workers and Hispanic civil-rights groups. The proposal has two facets. First, it would create a pilot program that would give temporary legal status to workers who can prove they have worked in U.S. agriculture in the past two years. Workers would have to work in agriculture an additional three to five years, have clean criminal records and pay a fine before they apply for permanent legal resident status. The second part would refine the current guest-worker program.
This has a good chance to gain traction — and should. But it addresses only agriculture.
Too bad it has come to this. Immigration reform in pieces — fix this area, leave others to fester. Keep people in shadows subject to exploitation, and leave industries, ranging from construction to high-tech, struggling to fill jobs.
Clearly, we have a federal problem without the federal will — or leadership — to resolve it. No wonder states, even counties, are going their own way.
Kate Riley's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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