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Editorial: U.S. ill-served by patchwork immigration law

In Florida on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced he has signed into law the legislation that will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrant children who have waited with their parents for years to get visas have to go to the back of the line when they turn 21. This is just a snapshot of the patchwork mess created by the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Scott did not exactly champion the new law that will enable thousands of undocumented high school students to have a better shot at attending college by paying in-state tuition. He embraced it only because lawmakers such as House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made it a priority and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, included it in legislation with other caps on tuition increases that the governor wanted. That gave Scott cover to brag about lowering all tuition costs without mentioning the some 175,000 undocumented immigrants who could benefit.

Regardless, this is a smart move for Florida. Taxpayers already have invested in these young people by underwriting their public education. Helping them afford college should enable them to grow into adults who will be able to find better-paying jobs and contribute to their adopted home. Republicans such as Weatherford and Latvala deserve credit for seeing the bigger picture and pushing it through the Legislature. It would also make sense to enable these undocumented immigrants to get drivers' licenses rather than risk driving illegally, but Scott vetoed that change last year.

Just as unreasonable is Monday's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to force immigrant children to start over in their wait for a visa when they turn 21. Only a limited few can keep their spot in line, and advocacy groups say forcing the rest to go to the back of the line when they age out lengthens their wait by more than nine years. Letting them remain in their place on the waiting lists, they say, would lengthen the wait for others by a few months. This is exactly the kind of nonsensical situation that Congress could resolve by approving comprehensive immigration reform.

And it's not the only one. The Obama administration continues to aggressively deport the very sorts of illegal immigrants who have been working and who would be eligible to remain here legally under comprehensive reform. Yet last month the president ordered a delay in making recommendations to change the deportation system to give Congress more time to reach a consensus on immigration legislation. Another unintended consequence of congressional gridlock: A surge of children are illegally crossing the Mexican border into Texas and being taken to overburdened facilities in Arizona.

Congress is responsible for this piecemeal approach to immigration, which is not healthy for the nation and not fair to the millions of undocumented immigrants whose lives hang in the balance. The Senate last year approved comprehensive legislation that offers a long path to citizenship and addresses issues such as guest visas for low-skilled immigrants, visas for highly skilled workers and a new agricultural guest worker program — all important issues to Florida. The House should stop stalling, bring the bill up for a vote and pass it.

Editorial: U.S. ill-served by patchwork immigration law 06/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2014 6:32pm]
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