Column: Reforming immigration the right way
SAN DIEGO -- Gracias, Marco Rubio.
Americans are being fed rosy scenarios about how quickly and easily Congress will pass immigration reform. They need a reality check, and the Florida senator delivered it.
If someone had just started paying attention to the immigration debate over the last few months, he might think that it's simply a matter of bringing together both parties -- which includes Republicans taking on nativist constituents who think immigrants change the culture, and Democrats confronting supporters in organized labor who believe they take jobs from U.S. workers.
The truth is, we're talking about one long and difficult struggle. Powerful interests will try to thwart you. You can become tired and frustrated, and just give up.
Look at Washington's track record. It's been 27 years since Congress passed a major overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to citizenship for those who were living in the country illegally. It's been 12 years since George W. Bush began the current debate over comprehensive immigration reform. And it's been six years since Congress came close to passing a bipartisan compromise that combined border security and legal status for the undocumented with what has traditionally been the real deal-breaker: guest workers for U.S. industries that have to fill, as Bush used to put it, "jobs that Americans won't do."
And now, the media, immigration advocacy groups, and the political establishment want us to believe that the two sides have come together and have struck a deal in just five months. This is how much time has elapsed since the Republicans got a spanking from Hispanic voters in the November election.
As an integral part of Senate deliberations on the issue as a member of the so-called "Gang of Eight," Rubio isn't buying it. And he's urging you not to buy it either.
While other members of the "gang" -- such as Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Charles Schumer of New York -- took to the Sunday talk shows to herald what is supposedly an agreement on guest workers between business and labor, and promised to unveil as early as next week actual legislation calling for comprehensive immigration reform, Rubio issued a statement through his office reminding everyone that there is no final agreement.
He is quite correct. We have a long way to go before there is a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden. The you-know-what is in the details. And many people can't read the scoreboard, because they aren't even sure what game is being played.
Despite the hysterics on talk radio, the admonitions of editorial pages, and the assorted views of the punditry, the key to the immigration debate was never about convincing reluctant Republicans to accept a path to citizenship. It is about convincing reluctant Democrats -- especially those in union-friendly states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- to accept the idea of bringing in thousands of guest workers.
Groups like the AFL-CIO put up the facade of supporting immigration reform, but there is no evidence that the rank and file have changed their long-held view that we should be deporting illegal immigrants and not finding ways for them to legally remain in the United States. Unions are like politicians. You have to ignore what they say, and focus on what they do. And what organized labor has been doing lately is inserting a whole jar of poison pills into the negotiation. Whether it's demanding higher wages for guest workers, or even suggesting that any provision for family unification be extended to same-sex couples, unions and other elements of the left seem intent on killing immigration reform before it gets off the ground. And if Republicans catch the blame, then all the better.
Aides to Rubio insisted that the senator wasn't backing off his support for immigration reform or suggesting that a deal couldn't be put together. They said he only wants to make sure that his colleagues take their time and go through the normal process, which includes public hearings and amendments from other senators.
Once it is written, the bill will start its legislative trek in the Senate Judiciary Committee. In recent days, it has appeared that Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wants to fast-track the legislation to avoid snags.
But, as with any exercise in representative democracy, snags there will be. It's the job of our leaders to work through them. Not to pretend they don't exist.
Ruben Navarrette's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.