CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Congress should resurrect immigration compromise

As I left work April 10, I noticed a steady stream of cars pulling off Washington Street into the IBJ Corp. parking lot. The cars were full of Hispanics who had come downtown for the Big March.

The sidewalks, too, held a steady flow of Hispanics heading east toward what turned out to be one of the largest public political rallies in city history.

Most of the people I saw looked young-in their teens, 20s or 30s-and seemed to be groups of friends. But a large percentage of the crowd was couples trailing small children oblivious to the political import of their presence.

Media reports that evening and the next day showed stunning pictures of a crowd estimated at 13,000 to 20,000 in our city’s streets. If anyone in central Indiana was not tuned in to the size of our Hispanic community before, they are now.

Varying estimates peg the Hispanic population in metro Indy anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 strong.

The nationwide rallies, which drew hundreds of thousands of participants, certainly brought that reality home to many, but more important, they underscored the absolute necessity for our government to finally deal with the problem of illegal immigration.

As might be expected, the rallies brought forth a slew of opinions on how to deal with this problem, and Congress will have an opportunity to do just that when it reconvenes in about a week. While many debate what Congress should do, the biggest catastrophe would be if Congress did nothing.

Opinions are interesting. Humbly, I leap into the breach.

Radio talk show pundits have their takes. WIBC’s Greg Garrison noted on his Web site, “The bottom line is that these people [illegal immigrants] are not Americans, are not our guests, are not here with permission or having observed our immigration laws, and are therefore most certainly not entitled to ‘rights’ however they are most conveniently defined.”

From a legal standpoint, that is absolutely true.

WXNT’s Abdul Shabazz said, “Instead of this ‘bumper sticker’ mentality of ’round them up and send them back’ … it’s time to accept the reality of the situation on the ground.” I like that concept.

He offered a reasonable compromise, including these components: Seal the border, create a permanent worker status class for the people already here, make English the official language of the U.S. government so all domestic work is conducted in the same language, and allow immigrants to receive government benefits if they pay for them.

The nine-member Indiana congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., predominantly supported the rather punitive House bill passed in December that would basically seal U.S. borders and require the deportation of undocumented workers, thought to number about 12 million.

Rep. Michael Souder, R-3rd District, and Rep. Julia Carson, D-7th District, were the two who opposed it, Souder because he thought some of the requirements were too punitive for businesses that employ illegal aliens-and there are many, many, many of those. Obviously, or we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Rep. John Hostettler, R-8th District, distinguished himself last week in dubious fashion by suggesting that federal authorities blew it by not arresting all the “lawbreakers” who were so conveniently gathered in large numbers in one place at one time at the April 10 rallies.

Our own inability to enforce existing law and protect our borders has put us in an untenable position, so action is required.

I was encouraged when a compromise came out of the Senate just before the spring recess. That plan would’ve tightened security along the border and implemented a multitiered system whereby it would be easiest for illegal immigrants who have been here for five years or more to become citizens and nearly impossible for those who have been here two years or less. I was equally disappointed when it failed the next day.

Based on comments I’ve read from their spokesmen, it would appear Indiana senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh would both favor a compromise of this ilk. It would appear, too, that some combination of tightening our borders, beginning to enforce our laws better, and rationally dealing with the millions who are already here is the answer. Congress should get to work on it.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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