Got to side with the World-Herald on this one.....by Kyle Michaelis
Tuesday, the Omaha World-Herald editorialized:
A balanced approach to the immigration issue, this is not.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., last week weighed in on the increasingly explosive debate with a revised version (S. 2368) of a bill he first introduced in November.
To say the least, it lacks the practical weighing found in bills from Nelson's Nebraska colleagues, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Rep. Tom Osborne....
Nelson says he focused on border security in the hope of advancing work on a comprehensive bill. Well and good. But one of the provisions in Nelson's bill seems unrealistic. Another is disturbing.
Nelson and two Republican co-sponsors are the first senators to call for what anti-immigration hawks have espoused: a 1,951-milelong fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico at an estimated cost of $5 billion.....
Build a fence, the hawks say, and illegals could not simply walk in from Mexico where the U.S. Border Patrol isn't watching. Fewer people could physically defy attempts to regulate the flow of noncitizens. The move would ease the multibillion-dollar drain on governments.
All of these are undeniable problems. A final bill needs to address them. But remember this fact:
The Israeli anti-terrorism security fence, touted by some who back a Mexican border fence, will extend about 400 miles around the West Bank when completed. A would-be fence separating the United States and Mexico would be nearly five times as long - longer than some estimates of the length of the Great Wall of China.
Some stretches of the Mexican border could use more physical barriers. But are Americans truly willing to swallow a multibillion-dollar, 2,000-mile fence? And how would smugglers of illegal immigrants be prevented from tunneling under the border, which already happens in some places?
Nelson and his co-sponsors, Sens. Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn, may have reasonable answers to such questions. What cannot be defended, however, is the bill's embrace of the radical provision the House passed in December that would put religious and humanitarian groups at risk of federal prison if they help the wrong people.
Editorials here in December and January decried the inclusion in H.R. 4437 of prison terms of up to five years for anyone who "assists, encourages, directs or induces," "transports or moves" or "harbors, conceals or shields from detection" an illegal immigrant, "knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien."
It takes little imagination to see how a church or a nonprofit group, confronted with someone ill, hungry or needing shelter or medical care, could run afoul of this threat.
The stakes on this matter were underscored just last week by Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, who said he would direct his priests to defy such a law rather than ignore their spiritual duty.
Surely the time to ascertain a person's immigration status is not when his life depends on it. Surely it would deny the impulse toward generosity that has typified Americans throughout our history. Surely our leaders can do better than this.
What Nelson has proposed here goes far beyond the "splitting the middle" pragmatism Nelson usually employs with such contentious issues. In fact, it says a lot that the co-sponsors of this effort, Sessions and Coburn, are two of the most reactionary and extremist Republicans in the U.S. Senate. I'm afraid that here, on this issue at least, Ben Nelson might just be the company he keeps.
I mean, seriously, even the World-Herald considers this plan unreasonable. While they reserve the label "disturbing" only for its possible consequences for non-profit groups - opening them up to all sorts of criminal liability for doing nothing more than providing humanitarian relief - I believe that term is a more than apt description of Nelson's Iron Curtain as well.
This is bad legislation - beneath us as a state, a nation, and definitely as a people. Without engaging in too much hyperbole, I must say that the moment the United States puts up a fence like this, we may as well take down the Statue of Liberty because that torch will have died and lost its meaning. Lady Liberty's message of hope and brotherhood will have been sacrificed on an alter of outsized political ambitions without any regard for principles of common sense, practicality, and the beautiful idea of what it means to be an American.
In other words, this extreme measure is not the work of the Ben Nelson Nebraskans have come to know and respect. Despite pressures to the contrary on what is a complicated, even desperate, issue, we nevertheless hope THAT Ben Nelson will return to his senses and come home to the voters of Nebraska - who still demand, above all else, an immigration policy of concscience, humility, and humanity. None of these are evidenced by an intercontinental fence, holding us hostage to our fears, which will only continue to gather and build as, all in all, just more bricks in the wall.