Moving closer on immigration

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 03:40 PM

The U. S. Senate Thursday took a significant step toward solving the immigration challenge with which the nation has wrestled for a decade or more.

The vote was lopsided – 68 to 32 – a testimony to an arduous effort at compromise across party lines that should encourage those who may have given up hope our elected representatives can work together to do what we sent them to Washington to do – legislate.

Probably no single senator was pleased with every aspect of the bill, and many had to suppress deep reservations about parts of it. They did that because they believe that taken as a whole, it is the best possible solution.

The fight is far from over; there is considerable chance that this bill still will not become law.

Here in Durham, we have a good deal at stake.

Most practically, immigration reform is important in a county that has the sixth-greatest number of Latino/Hispanic residents of any of North Carolina’s 100 counties.  The 2010 census counts more than 36,000 of our neighbors – about one in seven of us – as Hispanic/Latino.

That number probably is low – the census is widely regarded as undercounting that population. And while many are here legally, most estimates are that as many as 9 in 10 lack proper documentation.

Those residents are an important part of our community.  They are a rich and vital part of our daily life.  They are, like the rest of us, human beings.

Durham and Chapel Hill are and have been welcoming communities to these immigrants, and the majority of folks who live here, we have no doubt, enjoy the diversity and energy they bring.

Our community will benefit immensely if the Senate’s carefully constructed bill, with a path to citizenship, becomes law. If, in a few years, many Hispanic/Latino residents of our community have the ability to vote, to open bank accounts without fear of detection, to report crimes without fear of discovery and to be full participants in daily life and full contributors to our economy, this will be a better place and we will be a better people.

We understand the reservations many feel about “rewarding” those who have entered the country illegally. But we should acknowledge that, in essence, we have invited them – by welcoming their service often in low-paying jobs, by building businesses and service industries on their eager participation, by our long casual and self-benefitting approach to border crossing. And we should not forget we have invited them here by having a standard of living and a culture of freedom that is the envy of many across the globe.

We repeat: the Senate bill has strong bipartisan support. Fourteen Republicans (not including North Carolina’s Richard Burr) voted for it, along with all 52 Democrats (including Kay Hagan) and two independents.

The House will and should have its own robust debate on this bill. But we hope that in the end a majority will cast a vote for moving forward, realistically and humanely, on immigration.