Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Will the Democratic Party Follow Ben Nelson's Lead on Immigration?

by Kyle Michaelis
Sen. Ben Nelson is a man who knows how to get things done. We've seen that on Iraq, where Nelson has quietly but confidently helped lay out the pathway for establishing accountability and Congressional oversight over a war that was allowed to spiral out-of-control unchecked for almost four years under the Republican Congress. Now, on immigration, the other cable news-approved BIG ISSUE of the day, there are reports that the Democratic Congress again seems ready to follow Nelson's lead, keeping faith with the American people and proving to them the Democratic Party can overcome the gridlock and partisan procedural hurdles that have too long stood in the way of progress.

The following U.S News article is based on a story from the ultra right-wing Washington Times, so it's somewhat suspect. But, what truth there is in the report reinforces Nelson's place as one of the Democratic Party's premiere power-brokers and expert navigators through treacherous political waters when people are finally ready to listen to the American people and get serious about getting stuff done.
The immigration bill is back, with the Senate expected to debate it over the next two weeks. Senate passage is by no means assured, but the measure appears to have a fighting chance of surviving the legislative maneuvers and counter-maneuvers expected of the next couple of weeks. Keen observers of the current debate, however, have long expressed reservations about the chance of anything close to the Senate "grand bargain" (the bipartisan legislation including both border security measures and a "path to citizenship") making it through the House. In the House, Republicans seem firmly opposed to the legislation -- while Democrats are wary of passing any immigration bill without GOP support.

But now Democratic leaders may have found a partial way out of this impasse. The Washington Times reports this morning House Democrats "say they may break the immigration issue up into a series of smaller bills that would put off the tougher parts and allow others to pass, such as border security, and high-tech and agriculture worker programs that have clear support." That "could buy Democrats more time to work out the tougher aspects of immigration, such as what to do about the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now here, but it would go against the Senate's massive catchall approach and contradicts President Bush's call for a broad bill to pass."
I've long advocated comprehensive immigration reform and have taken issue on numerous occcasions with Nelson's playing the "Amnesty" card with such unprincipled abandon. But, comprehensive reform does not require a single piece of comprehensive legislation if our politicians are truly willing to tackle the full scope of our nation's immigration problem in a responsible and timely manner.

By adopting the "Border Security First" approach that was so successful in Nelson's 2006 re-election effort, there is a definite opportunity for Democrats to make a reasonable start tackling what is understandably a very complicated issue. But, the problem is actually backing-up and proving their commitment to a total overhaul of our broken system after getting the easy stuff out of the way.

Border Security First is a great slogan....it's probably even a good strategy....but, just like saying we need to withdraw our troops from Iraq, the American people must demand a more complete answer from any elected official who is honestly deserving of their trust.

Although I differ with Sen. Nelson on a number of issues, his political acumen is not in question. In fact, as we've seen on Iraq and perhaps now even on immigration, national Democrats would do well to take his counsel and his example seriously if they have any real intention of restoring their party as a viable alternative in America's Heartland. My only hope is that they cut a few less corners and avoid Nelson's unfortunate tendency to occasionally use a good soundbyte at the expense of good policy.

Nelson is a politician - a damn good one at that. On immigration, though, real lives are at stake. It's important to establish who is here as a matter of national security. But, figuring out where things stand so we can move forward in a humane and responsible manner does not support lining up millions of people as if they were pawns on America's political chessboard.

We're not the party of Iowa's xenophobic, Joe McCarthy-loving Congressman Steve King (featured in yesterday's Omaha World-Herald). Thank God for that - we can do so much better. By learning from Nelson's success but improving upon his message by answering the tough questions, that's precisely what we'll do.

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Anonymous Dave Sund said...

I'm not a big fan of Nelson's immigration stance. And I'm very lukewarm about the current proposal in the Senate. It places an enormous burden on the immigrants who are simply looking for a better opportunity here while doing nothing to hold the employers who exploit this cheap labor accountable.

There isn't an easy solution, but I doubt that any solution that comes through this Congress is going to please anyone - or solve anything. Unfortunately, I think they're going for the mere appearance of doing something, rather than action. A little cynical? Perhaps. But the debate about immigration deserves better than juvenile buzzwords and dog-whistle politics.

A lame duck President and a deeply divided Congress aren't going to accomplish much. Depending on your perspective, I suppose that could be a positive.

Anonymous R.C. said...

This so funny. NNN has constantly bashed Nelson and his immigration position until the leadership realizes, over a year later, that whoaaa, Ben might be right???

The significance of Ben's plan, and why he has (accurately) called the Senate bill "amnesty" is clear and simple: until you stem the flow of illegal immigration from both our southern and northern borders, granting any sort of "earned citizenship" is simply going to result in more people coming across the border.

But, if you secure the borders first, using technological and physical barriers, and crack down on employers and employment abuse of illegal workers, you can then consider options for the law-abiding immigrants who have fought to find a better life here.

Seriously, when you fall into the black-or-white amnesty-or-persecution duality forwarded by the right wing noise machine, you ignore the giant grey in the middle that most Americans fall into and let the Republicans win with their fear-mongering and bigotry. Not to mention lose politically.

Why is it that the party's response when Republicans (and some Democrats) cry "amnesty!" is "No it's not!" and not "The Republicans won't work with us to secure the borders"??

The party is in a position of strength. Why won't they use it, and why won't you consider the fact that Ben has been right all along on immigration?

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

R.C. -

If NNN were in the habit of "bashing" Ben Nelson, you'd damn well know it. I have written about Nelson's position on immigration on numerous occasions, and I'd love to see you point out where I have been anything but fair and respectful to his position. Here's a handful of links for you to make it easier on you:

AMNESTY: Hagel Plays the Name Game as Nelson Looks to November (05/18/2006)

Nelson Declares Immigration Reform Dead (05/20/2006)

Immigration Reform Dead? (07/05/2006)

The Failure of Ben Nelson's "Border Security First" (11/29/2006)

Ben Nelson's Position On Immigration Is A Joke. . . Literally (05/29/2007)

It's funny how my attempt to give credit where credit is due on this issue - as, to my knowledge, the ONLY voice in the Nebraska media to recognize Nelson's foresight and vision - should somehow open NNN to attack for not kissing Nelson's ass with enough unquestioning worshipfulness.


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