Tonawanda News

February 6, 2013

DUVALL: The pragmatic immigration debate

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — There are two debates we can have over immigration reform: The one we need to have about finding practical and fair solutions as to the future of the 11 million illegal immigrants in America and the one about how we wish they had just never come here in the first place.

In case you hadn’t noticed, pragmatism is sorely lacking in our public policy debates with lawmakers offering “solutions” as if the problems they don’t like simply never happened.

See the immigration debate, where House Republicans face this choice. First indication is they’re going to stick to their guns and refuse anything they deem “amnesty” for those here illegally.

A bipartisan group of senators, including the ascendant conservative from Florida, Marco Rubio, have proposed a series of steps that would further secure the nation’s borders while offering a “path to citizenship” for those here illegally. 

It offers law-abiding, gainfully employed illegal aliens a series of steps to complete, including paying a fine to answer the charge of entering the country illegally and proving proficiency with the language. In return, they will be granted citizenship.

The proposal is balanced, realistic and reflects the values of Democrats who seek to protect immigrant rights and Republicans who don’t want to reward those entering the country illegally.

This would be the pragmatic approach and could, if properly packaged, pass with a large bipartisan vote — in the Senate that is.

But in the House, Republicans are far less reasonable — and terrified they’ll lose a primary to a tea party conservative next year.

That means their response is to shut down anything that allows those illegal aliens an opportunity to become legitimate American citizens.

To this, there is a fair question: What’s the alternative?

We could continue to ignore the problem. 

We could spend billions tearing apart families by smoking out illegals and deporting them. But even if that works, who’s going to do the low-wage labor-intensive work most natural born citizens simply won’t do? (Seriously, when was the last time a kid from the suburbs — or the inner city, for that matter — signed up to pick fruit in 100 degree heat for minimum wage?)

The reality is we need these people in our society. They serve a vital role in our economy, yes. But they also serve as an inspiration and a reminder to Americans who take their status in this country for granted. They’ve left behind everything they know to take menial, back-breaking jobs with the belief that America is still a land of opportunity. It is the kind of sentiment held by generations of would-be Americans dating back to our founding. It is the fuel that makes this grand American experiment work — and, by the way, the sentiment lauded by Republicans at every turn.

Here in America, if you work hard, anyone can succeed.

I grant these people broke the rules. But they’re here and there isn’t much we can do about that now.

Offering a path to citizenship while working harder to prevent illegal immigration in the future isn’t just the pragmatic thing to do, it’s the right thing to do for our economy and in service to our founding principles.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at