Thursday, April 13, 2006

Immigration Reform Exposes Hagel / World-Herald Hypocrisy

by Kyle Michaelis
I wish I had enough time to devote adequate attention to the numerous ways America's heated immigration debate has reached Nebraska's borders. On Monday, well more than 10,000 Nebraskans (whether U.S. citizens or not) marched at rallies in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Norfolk, and several other cities in some of the largest mass demonstrations this state has ever seen, calling for dignity, fairness, and recognition of the plights facing America's foreign-born families.

Meanwhile, Nebraska's state legislature is poised to pass a controversial, long-in-the-works bill providing in-state tuition to Nebraska colleges and universities for students graduating from Nebraska high schools even if they lack proper legal documentation. Sadly, even if this bill passes today, the final day of the 2006 session, Gov. Dave Heineman seems likely to veto it with supporters lacking the votes or even the opportunity to pursue an override.

Yet, ultimately immigration is a national issue to be decided by the federal government. As such, our two U.S. Senators have been rather up-front about their respective (though widely-divergent) proposals.

On one hand, you have Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who squeezed his way into the very forefront of the national debate by offering a compromise with Sen. Mel Martinez that seemed - for about two hours last Thursday night - to have broken a partisan dead-lock. The compromise ended up, however, not even surviving through the morning, calling into question whether the will exists for Congress to take any action on immigration whatsoever.

As part of a more comprehensive immigration proposal, the Hagel-Martinez Amendment would have set criteria by which some illegal residents could stay in the country while getting on the path to citizenship while those less esablished would still be forced to return to their native country.

Sen. Ben Nelson, on the other hand, has recognized the political difficulty of enacting any reasonable plan for comprehensive immigration reforms, choosing to put the politically charged questions of amnesty, deportation, and citizenship on the backburner to simply focus on securing our borders and enforcing the law as a matter of national security.

Now, my natural inclination is towards a comprehensive immigration plan because I have seen first-hand how dire the need is for some common sense to be injected into the system. I worry that Nelson's security-focused alternative might put off other necessary reforms, as I put little faith in politicians following through once they have an excuse not to do so.

Still, there's no denying that in the post-9/11 world the principle behind Nelson's proposal has a certain appeal because it respects the urgency of our national security concerns....inflated as they may be. If Congress were really to be stuck doing nothing on immigration for another year, Nelson's proposal might be a reasonable course of immediate action that would at least get the ball rolling on reform.

Of course, the obvious merits of Nelson's political strategy are far removed from those of his actual border security proposal - the most infamous aspect of which is a pair of fences running along the United States' southern border that I personally find rather antithetical to the entire American character (as previously stated).

That I might disagree with Nelson about the necessity of a border fence, however, does not blind me to the unfair attacks Nelson has suffered for what is otherwise a fairly reasonable and well-argued proposal.

Apparently desiring to hurt Nelson politically, Hagel was quoted in the Omaha World-Herald calling the fence idea "goofy." At the same time, Republican candidate for Senate David Kramer has accused Nelson of "demagoging the immigration issue for weeks."

Worse than either of these partisan cheap-shots, however, is the Omaha World-Herald's repeated criticism of Nelson's approach. The real problem with Hagel's comment and the World-Herald's criticism is not in the statements themselves but in their targeting Nelson so specifically. The World-Herald, in particular, is guilty of holding Nelson accountable for the excesses of the immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives in December, implying they are one and the same despite substantive differences between that plan and his own.

The Lincoln Journal-Star has at least given Nelson some opportunity to differentiate his plan from the House of Representatives', which Nelson himself has declared "mean-spirited":
"[Nelson's] bill would not automatically turn the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country into felons....

And his bill does not require construction of a security fence stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico....

Rather, it authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to construct a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border “where it can make a difference,” but relies more heavily on “a virtual fence” created by advanced technology and managed and patrolled by 10,000 additional border agents.

Taking Nelson for his word on the above, I too may have been too general and hasty in my condemnation of his proposal....even if I still don't like it on its face.

What's so funny is that Nelson, a conservative Democrat, should take heat from Hagel and the World-Herald for the actions of the Republican-controlled House. While targeting Nelson, they irresponsibly fail to mention that all three of Nebraska's Republican Congressional Reps. - Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Tom Osborne - voted for a "goofy" fence idea of their own in a form far less forgiving and far more extremist than what Nelson has proposed.

Why should Nelson be held to a double-standard as Nebraska's Congressional delegation marches lock-step with the farthest reaches of the Republican right? Does Hagel realize that his Nelson insult is truly a slap in the face to Fortenberry, Terry, and Osborne? Does the World-Herald realize that it doesn't need to make a scapegoat of Nelson when this state has three Representatives actually deserving of the scorn that has here been so misplaced?

Rhetorical questions, all of them - to which I fear, by looking at the record, we already know the answers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might note that while the NE congressional delegation voted for the House bill, the amendment making illegals felons was passed with the support of 211 House Democrats and only 65 Republicans if I recall correctly. Also, the bill specifies a 700 mi fence only along the AZ and CA borders where traffic is the highest, and fines employers.

Anonymous Ted K said...

Anonymous, you have that backwards. The original bill made illegals felons. The proposed amendment would have removed this provision. The Democrats voted against this because they wanted the entire bill to fail.


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