Senate panel breathes sanity into immigration debate




Mercury News Editorial

With the support of President Bush and the voices of hundreds of
thousands of protesters ringing in their ears, the Senate Judiciary
Committee this week restored balance to the debate over immigration.

Its bill, which now goes to the full Senate, has all the elements of
a solution that has eluded Congress and divided the nation: tougher
border protections, a guest-worker program for new immigrants,
sanctions against companies that don’t comply and an opportunity — not
a guarantee — for immigrants already here illegally to seek permanent
residency. Close to what Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward
Kennedy, D-Mass., have proposed, the bill is not the inverse of the
provocative and punitive legislation passed by House Republicans last
year: It is a reasoned alternative to it.

Whether reason prevails during the next two weeks of debate in the
Senate is another matter. The bill is a long way from becoming law.

Though the Democrats on the committee, including Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, united behind it, the bill had the support of only four of
10 Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, putting his
presidential ambitions above the wishes of the president, is
threatening to pull rank and put his own enforcement-only bill at the
top of the pile.

Even if the Senate does pass a comprehensive immigration bill, it
must be reconciled with the House bill. Republican conservatives so far
remain obstinate that they will consider only border security this year.

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