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Immigration Reform In An Alternate Reality

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Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) are well-known for their regressive positions on immigration. Just in the past few months, Smith has helped lead the right-wing campaign against birthright citizenship, while Brewer has gained national attention for signing one of the harshest immigration laws in recent memory. These lawmakers were rightly included in the Immigration Hall of Shame, a roster of "obstructionists to immigration reform" created by Immigrants' List, a bipartisan political action committee.

The list of ten also highlights nominee for Colorado governor and noted anti-immigrant crackpot Tom Tancredo (I-CO) along with Senate Candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) and several other immigration hawks like Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Rep. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

But according to several "honorees," immigration reform is precisely what they've been calling for all along. In an interview with The Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Bilbray lists various workplace verification and border security legislative efforts as evidence of his pro-reform agenda. For his part, Rep. Smith claims that he is actually "pro-immigration and immigration reform, at least the right kind." Obviously, this begs the question: What does Rep. Smith consider to be immigration reform? He says it means "enforcing our immigration laws, securing our border and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants." Actually, the Obama Administration has already been doing this work, aggressively deporting immigrants by the hundreds of thousands, increasing funds for border security, and punishing employers for hiring undocumented workers.

No one should call this immigration reform. These measures alone aren't enough to fix our unworkable immigration system. Nor do they deter undocumented immigration; long-term studies of migration patterns conclude that "tightened border enforcement since 1993 has not stopped or discouraged migrants from entering the United States."

To be effective, reform must go beyond identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants, or punishing those who find work. Any smart immigration overhaul has to be comprehensive and include changes to the laws governing the legal immigration system. At a minimum, this entails revamping exploitative guest worker programs, clearing decades-long visa backlogs as well as providing an earned path to legal status for currently undocumented immigrants. For better immigration enforcement, the US needs better immigration laws to uphold. Obstructionists rightly belong in the Hall of Shame for their failure to recognize this.

A spokesman for Sen. Grassley insists in The Hill that most Americans support immigration reform that begins with border security as a top priority. Yet a recent poll reveals that Americans want more than enforcement-first policies. The survey asked: "Do you think the federal government's top priority should be securing the country's borders, or passing new immigration legislation, or should both be done at the same time?" 68 percent of respondents thought the federal government should do both, including 65 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Independents surveyed. Only 21 percent thought that border security should come first. Most Americans don't want to wait around for a hermetically-sealed border to pass new immigration legislation. In fact, the same poll showed that six out of ten people think this is impossible.

In short, Americans clearly want broader solutions to our immigration woes. If only our elected leaders were listening. Instead, it seems Bilbray, Grassley and other Hall of Shame lawmakers will continue to support their version of immigration reform, that is, nothing but the status quo.