Round one of debate in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race has come and gone. If you missed it, there's no loss. It wasn't a vigorous, thoughtful exchange between two candidates who offer different views of how to fix a broken federal immigration system. Instead, North Carolinians heard useless sniping.
This time, that's not good enough. This is a pivotal issue in the Tar Heel state, home to an estimated 390,000 illegal immigrants. We need real change in our nation's policies, and that won't happen without comprehensive reform. It's time we drew this line: If you want to represent this state in Washington, debate realistic proposals instead of pushing rhetoric or one-sided policies.
Incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole's first television ad focused on immigration, and on her admirable work with law enforcement in the state to implement programs to identify and transfer illegal immigrants who have committed crimes from local jails to federal custody.
Meanwhile, her challenger, Democrat Kay Hagan, staged a roundtable with six sheriffs to discuss the program Ms. Dole touts. She called it a “Band-Aid” solution that uses local money and creates a patchwork of inconsistent enforcement. She pointed out that we need a full plate of immigration reforms.
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She's right. Immigration is a job for the federal government. Here's why it has to be: To be effective, policies have to be consistent across state lines.
The problem is, Ms. Hagan was not precise with facts. Federal money pays start-up costs for local illegal immigrant identification programs. Her central point got lost in the crossfire.
The truth is, Ms. Dole has staked out an extreme position on immigration that focuses almost exclusively on enforcement. Many of her constituents question why. Last year Ms. Dole helped kill a solid reform bill that would have secured the border, boosted enforcement, expanded the guest worker program (a badly-needed step) and enacted penalties on illegal immigrants but allowed them to stay if they paid up and lined up behind legal immigrants awaiting processing.
That legislation was pushed by President Bush (and Sen. John McCain, among others). Sen. Dole called it “amnesty” for lawbreakers. But paying a price for what you've done isn't amnesty.
We'd like to hear, beyond deporting convicted criminals, what Sen. Dole proposes. In particular, we'd like to hear what she proposes to do about the estimated 12 million people who are in this country illegally. It's not practical to deport that many people. In the meantime, they perform jobs essential to the economy.
We'd like to hear, too, a detailed explanation of what Ms. Hagan would do to fix immigration.
Then we'd like to hear a spirited exchange arguing the merits of each view – one that recognizes the complexities in this issue and gives North Carolinians credit for seeing them, too.