Alabama’s law that sought to harass illegal immigrants was many things — poorly conceived, ambiguously written, unconstitutional in some sections, a shameless pander to bigots, a waste of time and money and an unfortunate setback for the state’s image.
Give state Republicans their due. Their initiative had one thing going for it: The flow of illegal immigrants into the United States is a serious problem, one that has been largely avoided by a series of congressional sessions stretching back decades.
President George W. Bush tried for immigration reform in 2007. His noble efforts were shot down by his fellow Republicans in Congress. Back then, conservative talk radio led the charge in spreading misinformation about reform, ramping up nativist fears and ultimately keeping in place the same broken system that has allowed 11 million illegal immigrants into the country.
The status quo leaves us with an underground economy that preys on the undocumented. It divides families, strains cities and towns and leaves gaps in the nation’s security.
Six years after Bush tried and failed at immigration reform, the banner has been taken up by President Barack Obama, whose administration claims illegal border crossings are down by 80 percent since 2000. The president is being joined by a coalition of Republican and Democratic senators who are wrestling with the specifics of comprehensive reform.
The U.S. Congress is the proper venue for such policymaking, and not in the states. Alabama, Arizona and other states don’t issue passports. Nor do they monitor visas or have the constitutional mandate to guard U.S. borders. These are jobs belonging to the federal government.
On Tuesday, the Senate took a small step down the road to reform. Senators had a simple question before them: Should we debate the precise form of comprehensive immigration reform?
That’s it. A “yes” didn’t necessarily mean a senator will support the bill in its final form, just that he or she is willing to have the Senate invest the time needed to find a workable solution to a big problem.
The good news is that the measure passed 82-15. The disappointment is that Alabama’s two senators — Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile — were among the 15 who preferred to not even bother with the debate. Both are solidly on the record as opponents of the current bipartisan reform efforts. However, Sessions and Shelby are members of the U.S. Senate — the legislative body that, as opposed to the Alabama Statehouse, has direct responsibility to debate immigration policy.