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Saturday, Jun 28 2014 11:01 PM

Politics must not indefinitely stall reform

By The Bakersfield Californian

Bakersfield City Councilman Ken Weir may have been right. Maybe the city council had no business butting into the contentious U.S. immigration debate.

Then again, more likely, the reason the council voted last week to "indefinitely" postpone consideration of a resolution urging Congress to proceed with immigration reform was to spare newly crowned House majority leader-elect Kevin McCarthy some political heartburn.

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, the only Democrat on the council, brought forward a proposed resolution expressing the council's support for HR 15, which is legislation that calls for sweeping immigration reforms, including setting mandatory border security goals, expanding the E-verify employee background check system and providing a pathway to citizenship. Blocked by Republicans in the House, the legislation was last heard in December.

It's easy to understand how McCarthy, Bakersfield's own, might have been placed between a political rock and a hard place.

His Central California congressional district is comprised of more than 30 percent Latinos. Valley businesses, including agriculture, are pushing for immigration reform to ensure a reliable workforce for the harvesting of crops and other industry needs. District residents have humanitarian concerns, with immigrant families split between countries and many living in the shadows of undocumented status.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the U.S. had 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in 2011. California currently has 2.6 million.

In addition to acknowledging the immigration needs of his district, McCarthy has supported the demands of the state's Silicon Valley companies, which want immigration reform to provide a greater supply of high tech workers.

But in his new role as the House majority leader, McCarthy and other Republicans will likely attempt to appease a rebellious tea party fringe that opposes most variations of immigration reform.

The Senate long ago passed a reform measure. But movement in the House has stalled. The surprise primary election defeat this month of business-friendly Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia -- at the hands of a little-known tea party-backed economics professor -- along with the unexpected promotion of McCarthy has most observers concluding that immigration reform is all but dead until after the November mid-term elections. It may even be dead until after the 2016 presidential election.

Meanwhile, a crisis has erupted on the nation's southern border, where women and unaccompanied children, primarily from Central America, are pouring into Texas. Homeland Security officials predict the number of these undocumented immigrants will swell to more than 60,000 by year's end.

There are many reasons for the surge. Warring between drug cartels and economic decline have destabilized the region. False rumors are being spread by smugglers about the Obama administration's immigration policies.

Desperate immigrants are being told that young children will not be deported if they can make it to the U.S. It is a misrepresentation of administration policies and laws that treat more leniently immigrant children who have been brought into this country illegally by their parents or guardians.

The border crisis has triggered a rash of finger pointing: Republicans blame the Obama administration's lax immigration policies and failure to "secure" the border. And Democrats blame the Republican-controlled House's refusal to consider immigration reform.

No doubt there is plenty of blame to spread around. But when you leave immigration reform to piecemeal, stop-gap measures, rather than engage in a thoughtful, thorough process, we shouldn't be surprised when a crisis at the border erupts.

Politicians of all stripes are likely to drag their feet in addressing the volatile immigration debate until after the November election.

But unlike the Bakersfield City Council, Congress cannot postpone "indefinitely" talk of reforming the nation's immigration system, which is clearly broken.

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