Off the table

Are some top N.C. Republicans softening their views on immigration? That would be positive.

December 8, 2012 

Sometimes, inaction speaks. In dissolving without taking any major action, a state House committee on immigration may be sending a message, or at the least showing signs that the leadership is pulling back from harsh rhetoric on the immigration issue.

This may reflect several political circumstances: Republicans lost the presidential election at least in part because of a failure to appeal to more diverse groups of voters. The general population is itself becoming more diverse, particularly with the growth of Latino populations in some areas.

In addition, state House Speaker Thom Tillis is a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and to win (if he’s nominated) will have to expand his reach beyond the conservative Republican base. And business people inclined to support Republicans, especially those in the construction and farm industries, need immigrant labor.

Whatever the reasons, a “relief” from this contentious issue is welcome. Illegal immigration has prompted some states, Arizona and Georgia being two examples, to pass tough measures designed to simply make life difficult for immigrants. Proposals have been all over the block in other states, from limiting educational opportunities and access to health care to empowering local law enforcement to help authorities find and deport illegal immigrants. The problem with many such ideas is that they tend to affect immigrants who are in the United States legally.

Immigration has been and should be a federal issue. It is federal law that illegal immigrants are violating, and it is federal policy that should be examined. It has not been so examined because of some of the same problems which state lawmakers have with getting into the issue.

The immigrant population is growing to the point where suggestions that all illegal immigrants be rounded up and sent home are utter fantasies. Many of them are working and have children who are U.S. citizens by virtue of being born within American borders. And what of the children born elsewhere, Mexico for example, who were brought to the United States through no decision of their own? They are the innocent bystanders in this argument. Then there are those interests of business who view these immigrants as reliable and affordable labor.

To wade into this without really having the power to do much about it would be a pointless adventure for state Republican leaders, and some of them now seem to know it. Let us hope that the bills pushed by some individual House members (the committee had no stance of its own) will be stifled by Tillis.

There’s no question that federal immigration policy is in need of serious repair. But North Carolina’s lawmakers can’t fix it, and should not try.

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