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Serious immigration reform on back burner

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opinion Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Supreme Court's landmark ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration law caused initial media disagreement over its meaning. Actually, there's confusion over an even bigger issue.

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Some stories called the ruling a victory for the Obama administration since the court scuttled three quarters of the law. Others insisted Arizona triumphed because the court didn't strike down the state's controversial "show me your papers" provision. Yet others said both sides had something they could tout as success.

But a consensus soon emerged that Arizona had indeed lost most of its battle. The Statue of Liberty had in effect booted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, disguised and trying to pass herself off as the Statue of Liberty. No matter: Brewer declared the ruling a "legal victory" vindication for Arizona. The ruling was a big victory for Arizona like a large pizza with extra cheese, pepperoni, bacon and ham is to dieting.

The ruling will be known as the day Justice Antonin Scalia truly defined himself. His 22-page dissent confirmed unfettered partisanship. He blasted the Obama administration, which he said "desperately wants to avoid upsetting foreign powers" which he said suggested "willful blindness or deliberate inattention" to Arizona's illegal immigrant population. He also took a potshot at Obama's recent immigration policy change. So much for a judge being aloof from the passions of party and talk show political culture hacks.

The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky wrote, "Scalia wants precisely to be thought of as a politician in a robe. No other reasonable conclusion can be drawn from his churlish and self-aggrandizing and probably unethical tirade against President Obama's recently announced immigration policy."

The prevailing question now is: isn't it time for Scalia to get his own show on Fox News? Will he fill in for Rush?

And, all the while, comprehensive immigration reform sits on the back burner. A-g-a-i-n. It smolders there -- symbolic of both political parties' failure to put aside pandering to their bases. Serious immigration reform involves give and take by both parties on how to control the borders and offer a humane path for those who've been here for many years. But in 21st century America compromise is a dirty word. Partisans only want the "take."

The list of those who failed on comprehensive immigration reform is long: Ronald Reagan (whose amnesty plan succeeded but the crackdown on employers never happened), Ted Kennedy, Arizona Sen. John McCain, President George W. Bush, and Obama. In the past decade conservative Republicans have deep-sixed comprehensive reform efforts.

Many of comprehensive immigration reform's foes describe the people involved as little more than statistics and stereotypes. During my jobs as a reporter for the Wichita Eagle and San Diego Union from 1980 through 1990, I did several series on illegal immigrants, immigration reform, and bilingual education, and illegal immigrant families didn't fit negative stereotypes.

Most I talked to in Kansas, San Diego and at the border left Mexico because they couldn't make money there and were in survival mode for their families. Some sisters died crossing the desert seeking a better life. A 10-year-old boy talked about how due to money problems, his little brother was with relatives in another state, and said he missed him: "He has a face like a pig." A father with six kids with a brutal meat packing plant job lost his thumb fixing an old car he later sold to another immigrant to supplement his income.

Today, I sometimes meet parents who I learn has been here illegally for a long time and their focus is invariably on their born-in-the-USA kids. This human aspect -- which gets lost in our always polarizing political polemics -- is what Reagan, George Bush, Kennedy, McCain, and Obama felt needed to be addressed.

Republicans and Democrats need to put aside viewing the illegal immigrants as a tools to manipulate and attract chunks of voters and do what both parties have not yet done: not fail immigrants and America on this linger issue again. Because immigrants are not mere numbers. They're breathing, feeling -- and aspiring -- people.

When thoughtful, serious, comprehensive immigration reform truly happens, that'll be the day Jan Brewer's Statue of Liberty costume might actually fit.

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Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com.

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