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Immigration reform is federal, not state, issue

Panel right to take no action; N.C. legislature shouldn’t either.

We hope a special N.C. House panel’s inaction last week on immigration legislation is a signal lawmakers will leave the matter to the federal government. That’s where the matter should be handled despite Congress’ abysmal negligence so far on pursuing and enacting comprehensive immigration reform.

The actions of states only muddle the issue, and in the case of some – Arizona comes to mind – provide harmful and illegal prescriptions. The Supreme Court struck down key parts of an Arizona law this summer.

Maybe the high court’s actions played a role in the legislative committee’s decision Thursday to dissolve without any major recommendations. In a brief report, the largely Republican panel only suggested that lawmakers approve nonbinding resolutions urging the state’s congressional delegation to revise federal immigration laws and enforce security along its borders.

Securing the borders is fine. But true immigration reform tackles bigger issues – what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here and U.S. employers’ demand for cheap labor that fuels the continued migration.

This year’s presidential election underscored the importance of the matter to a key constituency for both political parties: Hispanic voters. President Barack Obama campaigned on pursuing comprehensive immigration reform. Late last year, he instituted a policy to not deport undocumented immigrants who are students or were brought here as children, and who had no criminal records. Obama won election, helped mightily by the 70 percent of Hispanic votes he received.

The political clout of Hispanics may have helped members of Congress finally decide to move on the matter. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he expects the Senate to vote on immigration reform next year. And Republican leaders now are urging sweeping reforms including pathways to citizenship. GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona – who are both retiring after this term – introduced a reform bill two weeks ago that they hope will jumpstart bipartisan discussions.

Observers say the political reality of the importance of the Latino vote also played into the N.C. panel’s inaction this week. Said Peter Siavelis, the director of the Latin American and Latino Studies at Wake Forest University: “There are new cautions in doing anything really radical. This is a pretty reactionary state House and Senate, but I still think they see where the bread is buttered nationally.”

Still committee co-chair Republican Rep. Frank Iler gave this reason for the panel’s inaction: “There are specific bills being written by individual members… and so we decided not to preempt them in our report.” Indeed, bills are being drafted that make it harder for undocumented immigrants to live in North Carolina.

But N.C. lawmakers would do well to hear what voters said on Election Day: Overwhelmingly, in exit polls, they supported giving these immigrants a chance. They also should heed House Speaker Thom Tillis and other state GOP House leaders who reportedly aren’t interested in pushing the matter this year.

In any case, immigration reform is an issue best left to Congress. Finally, members seem ready to take it on. We urge them to do so with haste. We urge N.C. lawmakers to stay out of the way and let them.

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