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Why's Each Side Complaining About Immigration?

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- In politics as in life, you can't please everyone. But the Senate compromise for immigration reform doesn't appear to have pleased anyone.

Well, except President Bush. Having stated his preference for a bill that combines border enforcement, guest workers, a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, along with an education- and skills-based point system to assess the worthiness of future immigrants, Bush seems to look favorably on a deal which provides all of the above.

Everyone else? Not so much. The folks on the right sound like a broken record, blasting the deal as amnesty. That is bold talk from people who have failed the test of leadership by not offering a sensible alternative. But the real surprise is on the left, where the supporters of legalization -- from immigrant activists to Latino Democrats to the editorial page of The New York Times -- had a juicy steak dropped in their laps and then have had the nerve to demand sauce.

I admit that I took issue with the process -- the fact that senators dickered over the nuts and bolts of the plan to bring in guest workers when the larger issue is what happens to 12 million illegal immigrants already here. But that doesn't mean I want to join critics in blasting away at the product.

This is really a remarkable compromise, the likes of which you don't see often in Washington. It's evidence of just how thoughtful this plan is that it brings together traditional adversaries and divides traditional allies. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., opposes the plan as too harsh on illegal immigrants while fellow Latino Democrat, Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, supports it. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, decries the deal as too lenient while Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. -- with whom Cornyn co-sponsored an enforcement bill -- is a co-architect of the compromise that he says "represents the best opportunity that we have, in a bipartisan way, to do something about this problem."

Kyl makes a lot of sense. This deal isn't perfect, and supporters should be careful not to oversell it as a cure for illegal immigration. That is not what this is. We're always going to have illegal immigrants as long as Mexico and the United States share a border and a gaping wage disparity. Whether or not this plan becomes law, people will still come just for the chance to work. But, perhaps this way, fewer will come illegally and we'll have a better sense of who is coming and for what purpose.

Menendez is also correct that the left gave up more ground than the other side did in the negotiation. This plan is undeniably harsh on illegal immigrants, and there is reason for that: These folks broke our laws and they need to make restitution on our terms. Most Americans, while favoring a path to legalization, don't take lightly that we're bending the rules to let illegal immigrants stay in the country, and the immigrants shouldn't take it lightly either.

There has been enough posturing and absolutist rhetoric on both sides. At the end of the day -- when you're done beating your chest, or demanding sauce for your steak -- you have to ask yourself if you want to address this crisis.

If you don't want a solution, that's fine. No problem. Just be honest about it. There are folks at the far right and the far left -- from Mark Krikorian, executive director of a restrictionist group, the Center for Immigration Studies, to Nativo Lopez, president of the radical Mexican-American Political Association -- who oppose this compromise because both organizations benefit from keeping this issue unresolved. The more chaos, the better it is for membership rolls.

Yet, for those of us who see light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel, there is reason to be optimistic -- and impressed with this effort and the progress it represents.

It is no surprise that many liberal lawmakers -- beholden as they are to labor unions and Latino groups -- want to kill the guest worker program and preserve family reunification as the guiding principle for admitting immigrants. Just as it is no surprise that many conservative lawmakers hate the idea of giving illegal immigrants a path to legalization, even if it is a long and difficult one as it should be.

What do you expect the extremes to say? If they really believe that their side gave away too much in this negotiation, they should ask themselves one question: Why is it that their opponents are complaining just as loudly as they are?

(c) 2007, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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 Ruben Navarrette
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