Immigration reform is within our grasp. Meanwhile, people die.

By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Thursday, July 22, 2010

The article was largely buried in most newspapers, if run at all.

So many bodies of unauthorized migrants are being found in the Arizona desert this month, the Associated Press reported, that the Pima County Medical Examiner was stacking them like boxes of fish in a refrigerated truck.

Forty bodies were found in just the first half of the month.

Last year, 317 Americans died fighting in Afghanistan. Guess how many migrants, mostly Mexicans searching for work, died crossing illegally into America? The Border Patrol collected 422 in the last fiscal year, part of a rising trend.

And most die in the desert. Here is how Luis Alberto Urrea, in his book, "The Devil's Highway," described what happens:

"Dehydration had reduced all your inner streams to sluggish mudholes. . . . Your sweat runs out. . . . Your temperature redlines -- you hit 105, 106, 108 degrees. . . . Your muscles, lacking water, feed on themselves. They break down and start to rot. . . . The system closes down in a series. Your kidney, your bladder, your heart."

Yet these deaths figure little in the debate over immigration. There is faint sense of scandal, of tragedy or, certainly, of urgency to agree on a solution. The extremists rule, with one side calling for more enforcement and the other saying enforcement doesn't work.

The former has the louder voice today, making it the bigger culprit, but the latter -- humanitarian groups, for one -- share in the blame. They seem not to find any enforcement policy they like, abandoning responsibility.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is caught in the middle, a Gulliver tied by Lilliputians and unable to take command of the fight.

If our nation's legislators felt free to vote their conscience and intelligence, it's a good bet that at least 80 percent of the Senate and two-thirds of the House would vote now for a comprehensive immigration package. It would include a robust temporary worker program, improved workplace enforcement, recruitment of highly skilled immigrants and a pathway to legalization for the estimated 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants here.

There would be wrangling over the details, but the agreement on these principles is no secret among Washington insiders in the debate. The rest of the country just doesn't know it.

In polling, most Americans say much the same about those principles, but our solons, unable to see beyond the November elections, timidly cow before the extremists in their political bases.

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