Immigration reform should begin soon

President Barack Obama said earlier this month that even though our immigration system is “broken” and he believes reform is necessary, we shouldn’t expect any change this year.

We see no reason to wait. Proposals for such reform should be offered now, allowing Congress as much time as necessary to hear all sides of the issue, review all the options and get it right.

This should not be allowed to fester until after the 2010 elections, as U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz predicted.

Ortiz, D-Texas, said legislators would not want to deal with such a hot-button issue as they campaign for re-election. Sadly, Ortiz probably is right, even though it’s been only nine months since Ortiz and his colleagues were last voted into office.

Discussions regarding changes to our immigration policy have included amnesty, further militarization along the Mexican border and guest-worker programs, among others. Certainly such issues require full debate and consideration in Congress.

But the most-needed reform requires no legislation. Most of the problems in our current immigration system could be addressed simply by making the current system more efficient.

Existing law already provides for control of our borders, through a system of visas and permits that are customized to the kinds of trips and lengths of stay people intend. Those who are here illegally are, ostensibly, allowed due process in immigration courts, and deported if their reason for being in this country without documentation, or overstaying their visa, is deemed invalid.

Border residents, especially those who know someone who has dealt with the inefficiency in our immigration offices, know that simply making the current bureaucracy better, even under existing policy, would greatly reduce the illegal immigration that makes the issue so volatile.

Millions of illegal residents first entered here legally. They had the documents and passed the background checks that are necessary to get a visa. It’s reasonable to assume those people had a good chance of securing full legal residency, if the process weren’t so sluggish.

However, many of them have dealt with years of delays and red tape in order to get residency visas; that’s why they opt to get whatever entry permit they can and simply stay in this country when those permits expire.

Of course, many people bypass the system altogether, and cross surreptitiously into the United States. Under current law, these people would be the first to be deported, and we don’t argue with that policy.

It’s worth noting, however, that many of those illegal crossers pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars to “coyotes” who help them cross undetected. Those immigrants probably would be more willing to pay a few hundred dollars to get a legal permit, if they thought they had a reasonable chance of success.

Illegal immigration is what makes the issue so contentious, causing untold angst and costing untold billions in ineffective reactionary measures like border fences and lonely quasi-military outposts in the middle of nowhere.

Reducing the level of illegal immigration won’t eliminate the need for real reform such as ending the arbitrary and impractical quota system of allocating entry visas. It would, however, help reduce the fear and vitriol that has made it so difficult to deal with the issue in an intelligent manner.

And when it comes to bringing intelligence to our government, that kind of change is needed sooner rather than later.