Congress played dueling banjos last week over the issue of immigration reform, using the backdrop of the Independence Day week to do nothing more than pure electioneering.
And that's too bad, as the nation desires secure borders and immigration reform is seen as an important part of that.
Holding congressional hearings to gain public input on pending legislation is of course a good idea. How else will those who live and work within the Beltway understand what the rest of us seek?
But in this case, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have already passed their immigration reform bills. Instead of sitting down at the table in conference committee, House and Senate leaders -- all Republican, by the way -- now want to roll out their separate bills in hearings across America. But to what end? Certainly not to gain public input for a bill still in the works.
Rather, it's to saber-rattle at each other, trying to prove who has the better plan. The U.S. House's reform, which was aired last week in San Diego and Laredo, Texas, at the border, focuses on enforcement of border security and has no provision for illegal immigrants or future guest workers. The Senate held its own hearing in Philadelphia, brought by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who is touting that chamber's bill which provides a guest worker program and a possible path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants -- with about12 million now illegally in the United States.
And in the middle is another Republican -- President Bush -- who supports the more moderate Senate plan and himself staged some saber-rattling by stopping at a Dunkin' Donuts shop in Alexandria, Va., which has immigrant owners and employees. Hoping to find a compromise, the president said immigrants "must be treated with dignity."
Lost in the shuffle are plans to secure our northern border, which isn't seeing an influx of millions of Canadians but rather offers unlimited isolated spaces for terrorists to cross. That is the issue that Americans want handled first, not plans to round up millions of illegal Mexican immigrants and shoo them back, as the House plan would.
The Senate bill does include one provision we need, in an amendment by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. The administration's plan for northern border security is to require passports or a special, costly ID card which would do more harm than good for border commuters. Coleman's provision would delay those plans until 2009 unless the State and Homeland Security departments certify the program will work or offer something better.
Rather making immigration reform political fodder for the fall elections, House and Senate negotiators need to stay in Washington and work with President Bush to find a compromise.