NY Times editorial today on America's underclass:
A screaming baby girl has been forcibly weaned from breast milk and taken, dehydrated, to an emergency room, so that the nation’s borders will be secure. Her mother and more than 300 other workers in a leather-goods factory in
, have been terrorized — subdued by guns and dogs, their children stranded at school — so that the country will notice that the Bush administration is serious about enforcing immigration laws. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of poor Americans, lacking the right citizenship papers, have been denied a doctor’s care so that not a penny of Medicaid will go to a sick illegal immigrant. New Bedford, Mass.
As the country waits for Congress and the president to enact immigration reform, the indecency of existing policies is becoming intolerable. The immigrant underclass is in a growing state of misery and fear. States and localities have rushed to fill the vacuum of Congressional inaction with a jumble of enforcement regimes. Farmers are worrying about crops rotting as their immigrant workers retreat further into the shadows. Officials in
have settled on one solution: replacing those workers with prison chain gangs. Colorado
Senator Edward Kennedy, infuriated after visiting a
church basement and hearing tales of separated families and sick children, has given up on drafting a new immigration bill. He has decided instead to get Congress moving quickly by reintroducing a bill passed last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That bill — sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter, then the committee’s chairman — was seriously flawed to start and further distorted by harsh Republican amendments. New Bedford
Mr. Kennedy clearly believes that the urgent priority is to get the bipartisan coalition for immigration reform back on the bus and to fix problems while the bus is moving. His frustrations are understandable, but he will have to work hard to make sure that he and the bill do not compromise too much. And there is a lot in the Specter bill to be concerned about. Parts of it were cut and pasted from a cruel immigration bill that passed the House, including draconian measures to speed immigrants’ deportation and deny them protection in the courts. It came with an arbitrary cutoff date, leaving anyone who arrived here illegally after 2004 in the cold.
What is urgently needed is decency, proportionality and bipartisanship to resolve this festering debate. Whenever and however the Senate revisits immigration, the bottom line must be the same: a bill that combines border security and workplace enforcement with diligent protection of workers’ rights and a path to citizenship for immigrants who work for it. The alternative, the blundering and punitive status quo, is a path of misery.