The immigration divide

As debate on immigration heats up, all agree the system is broke

Sunday, April 2, 2006; Posted: 3:35 p.m. EDT (19:35 GMT)

(Time.comexternal link) — The numbers tell the story — one of conflicted values and little resolution.

Of
those surveyed in a Time poll last week, 82 percent said they believe
the government is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants out of
the country, and a large majority (75 percent) would deny them
government services such as health care and food stamps.

Half (51
percent) said children who are here illegally shouldn’t be allowed to
attend public schools. But only one in four would support making it a
felony to be in the United States illegally, as the House voted to do
when it approved the tough enforcement bill submitted by Wisconsin
Republican F. James Sensenbrenner.

Rather than expel illegal
immigrants from the country, more than three-quarters of those polled
(78 percent) favored allowing citizenship for those who are already
here, if they have a job, demonstrate proficiency in English and pay
their taxes.

These figures help to shed light on how two chambers
of Congress, both run by the same political party, should appear to be
headed in such different directions on immigration. The Senate
Judiciary has passed a measure far more open to immigration than the
House version.

The kind of comprehensive immigration reform
being discussed by the Senate carries the potential of transforming the
politics of the country by making citizens — and therefore voters —
of millions of mostly Hispanic residents in relatively short order.

Says
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: “This legislation is a defining moment in
the history of the United States of America.” And possibly in the
history of the Republican Party, which is why the politics of
immigration is becoming so tricky for the GOP.

The business
interests in the party base don’t want to disrupt a steady supply of
cheap labor for the agriculture, construction, hotel and restaurant
industries, among others. That’s why business lobbyists broke into
applause and embraced in the Dirksen office building as the Senate
Judiciary Committee voted 12-6 to send its bill to the Senate floor,
with four of the committee’s 10 Republicans joining all its Democrats
in favor.

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