Lost last week among the Supreme Court's decisions on gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the George Zimmerman trial, Paula Deen's troubles and the elusive traitor Edward Snowden, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill.
The measure passed the Senate by a 62-38 vote, carrying every Democrat, two independents who caucus with Democrats and, in a rare show of a degree of bipartisanship, 14 Republicans. Now it has gone over to the House, where the most optimistic forecast by supporters of the legislation is a chance that it might get looked at sometime this fall.
The reason for the cool to frigid reception in the House? The legislation is long on legalizing immigrants who are in the United States in violation of U.S. law, but short on securing the border, other than promising to do it in the future. The result was a "which is the cart and which is the horse" question. Should the path to citizenship be dealt with first, or should border security take precedence?
The legislation is heavily weighted toward citizenship path first. As a result, both of Georgia's senators voted against passage.
"... Any immigration bill must first secure the borders, and then make the path for legal entry smoother," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, said after the bill passed last week. "We had a real shot here to do this right. Unfortunately, this bill did not include the verifiable border security piece. Additionally, the agricultural program under this bill had some major flaws.
"As someone from the heart of ag country in south Georgia, I care deeply about making sure our farmers and ranchers are able to access a stable and legal workforce when sufficient American workers cannot be found. I am disappointed and frustrated my amendments that would have fixed these problems were not considered. Unfortunately, in the end this was a bill I simply could not support. I hope the House can fix some of the problems my colleagues and I have identified in this bill. We still have an opportunity to do this in the right way once and for all."
U.S. Sen. Johnny Iskason, R-Marietta, agreed with Chambliss. "... I had hoped that the Senate would produce a bipartisan bill that truly solved the many issues plaguing our nation's outdated immigration system," Isakson said. "I have said for many years and from day one of this debate that border security is my top priority, and I am disappointed that S.744 does not ensure true border security. I voted against S.744 ... because it contained several waivers and loopholes that could allow those who are here illegally to obtain green cards before our nation's borders are truly secure."
The legislation as it stands is pretty much DOA in the House, where any reform measure would have to shift the weight to real border security before it had any chance of passage. If the House amends the bill sent from the Senate or substitutes its own reform package, it's unlikely that the Senate would recognize the legislation when it was returned to it.
So, what happens now? Probably not much, other than posturing and finger-wagging.
A nation's ability to secure its borders is a fundamental duty of a national government. That needs to be addressed in the legislation and it needs to be set in concrete terms. In cases where immigration laws are unfair, they should be fixed.
With the exception of Native Americans, every citizen of the United States has an ancestor who came to this country looking for a better way of life. America has long been a melting pot that has attracted a multitude of cultures, and our ability to coalescence them into a single, vibrant nation is what allowed us to become the leader of the free world.
This debate over immigration law has to be more than how a law will benefit a particular political party, and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of focusing on just that. We need a law that focuses on the good of the nation, not on reclaiming the White House or the House of Representatives. Until that law — one based on security and fairness — is crafted, we'll continue to have a system where no one is happy and nothing is improved.