Tills looks at immigration beyond the wall

U.S. immigration policy needs to be much smarter than building a wall and scheming to make Mexico pay for it.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is working a building a better approach.

This is an ambitious project for the first-term Republican from North Carolina. Sensible, comprehensive immigration reform has eluded many politicians, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

And President Donald Trump is an uncertain ally. Beyond building a multibillion-dollar wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, hiring more security guards and deporting criminal illegal immigrants, not much is known about his plans. Anyway, it would take his entire term, and probably many years longer, to complete his boondoggle barrier.

Tillis also envisions a long process, according to recent reports in the Winston-Salem Journal and Wall Street Journal, but his plan is more realistic. For one thing, he recognizes that expelling 11 million people from the U.S. won’t happen. That’s “just not practical, nor do I believe, in the best interests of the U.S.,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

With that statement alone, Tillis would alienate most Republicans, who label anything less than 100 percent deportation as “amnesty.” Yet no one can explain how to accomplish such a feat — or what would happen if millions of farm laborers, factory employees, domestic workers and others were removed from our economy. And many illegal immigrants have U.S.-born children. Tearing apart their families shouldn’t be an option.

Besides, Tillis would focus first on border security and deporting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes — just as Trump would. It’s reasonable to do more to control access into our country as well as to return criminals to their homelands once they’ve completed prison terms here.

Tillis also proposes providing temporary legal status to people who entered the country illegally as children — the same step for which Obama received so much criticism from Republicans. Yet, these are essentially young Americans, educated here, working here, speaking English, who may not even remember living anywhere else.

Other measures would reform legal immigration and visa programs. Employment of illegal immigrants could be addressed through a stronger e-Verify program. Finally, a path to legal status must be created for law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

These are complex issues. Enforcing employment laws, for example, could disrupt industries that rely on immigrant labor. But disruption may be needed for employers who undercut American workers by paying lower wages to illegal immigrants.

Whatever the details, Republicans and Democrats are sure to find points of disagreement. Immigration is an emotional issue, and Trump is a master of exploiting public fear.

That creates a difficult climate for reaching consensus. Tillis is taking a risk by venturing into the storm.

Yet, cool heads on both sides of the aisle can see the advantage of working together to find middle ground. Then, perhaps, the extremists on both sides will lose their power to block progress.

That would leave only the unknown quantity in the White House, who would have to see beyond his wall.

The Greensboro News & Record

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