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Morlock: ‘Touchback’ plan has little appeal to migrants

They fear ‘path to citizenship’ bars any return

Under a bill slated for introduction into the U.S. House of Representatives, illegal immigrants must leave the country before being allowed into the United States. The man above is being escorted through a turnstile at the border in Nogales by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Under a bill slated for introduction into the U.S. House of Representatives, illegal immigrants must leave the country before being allowed into the United States. The man above is being escorted through a turnstile at the border in Nogales by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Stand up. Be counted. Get out of the country. America will let you back in. Promise . . . pinkie swear.

Let me get this straight. Let’s say I’m an illegal immigrant. I’ve been here for five years, avoiding the government, just hoping to keep my job and send some money home.

Now, Congress is proposing a law that tells me to leave the country so I can come back and be a legal guest worker with a 20-year path to citizenship? The same government trying to evict me will let me turn around and come back from across the border?

Details are in flux but a major immigration reform bill to be proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives today likely will call for a “touchback” provision. Illegal immigrants would leave, find a U.S. consulate, get a stamp and come back as a guest worker on a path to citizenship.

A conversation with a handful of people the law might affect yielded a collective “yeah, right.”

The reasons for distrust among the community of illegal immigrants had a peculiar range. They couldn’t trust President Bush. What would happen to their car if they drove down to the border, walked across and heard the border slam shut behind them?

To them, it’s not just a long day at a U.S. consulate somewhere in Mexico to get a stamp. It’s a trick to get them out of the country.

Still another put it this way:

“Why would I leave?” shrugged Cesare Gutierrez. “I’m here now.”

He may have no choice, said U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who said the bill would so punish businesses that only legal guest workers would find work.

“Jobs for people who are not here legally are simply going to dry up,” Giffords said.

Giffords wouldn’t have included the up-and-leave provision, but said it’s in the bill to attract a guest worker plan. She’ll give some to get some.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., left no doubt that he thinks touchback is a silly idea, but without it, the bill will lack support from Democrats.

“(Democrats) have to deal with the cautious members who think that immigration will defeat them or hamper their ability to win re-election,” Grijalva said.

The gazillion-dollar question is this: Can the “touchback” provision entice conservatives to support a guest worker plan they have vowed to fight until the border is secure (perhaps the day Arizona is covered again by a shallow inland sea?)

The $2 gazillion question is whether painful compromise struck in Washington will have any effect on the ground. Those here illegally now will render the guest worker plan moot and the get-tough requirement pointless if they don’t leave as required.

Sometimes politics is about making politicians accept compromise because there is just enough to make them happier than they are steamed.

Sometimes any concession is a poison pill. Sometimes compromise lets Congress “address an issue” but not fix a problem.

Just check out this dynamic among Arizona’s congressional delegation. The move to make illegal immigrants leave is similar to a proposal offered last year by Republican. Sen. Jon Kyl. He hasn’t seen the new bill and won’t comment. But in a series of interviews I’ve done with Kyl during the past year, he has said he can’t support giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, as this bill would. He calls it amnesty.

Grijalva refuses to support any plan that doesn’t include a path to citizenship for guest workers – even those here illegally now.

Move to the right and lose Grijalva in the House. Don’t move right and never get Kyl in the Senate.

Giffords and Grijalva both say immigration reform is vital, but their arguments are as different as their districts.

Grijalva represents Tucson’s South and West sides and said the bill is vital to protect migrants’ rights.

“I’m doing it because I’m tired of people coming into my office and I can’t help them,” he said.

Giffords represents a more conservative district – one whose border communities are forced to hunker down under waves of illegal border crossings – and talks up law enforcement and labor needs.

“Without this, we continue to live with the same failed policies,” she said. “We continue to live with a high rate of violence in our community and the challenges of economic prosperity.”

Congress is wading into white-hot anger – always a dangerous thing for politicians to do. The right is angry at those who break our immigration laws. The left is angry at laws that turn lettuce pickers into domestic refugees. Meanwhile, those lettuce pickers are running interference for real, live bad guys having shootouts on our soil.

And don’t forget business screaming for labor it swears can only come from down south.

Prospects for reform will require movement now. Giffords and Grijalva both say the bill is dead if it isn’t approved by August.

Congress has five months to get this one straight.

Blake Morlock can be reached at 573-4692 and bmorlock@tucsoncitizen.com.





Mexicans willing to visit home to become legal in U.S.?

Our Opinion: Don’t let new immigration bill die of neglect


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