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NAVARRETTE: Mixed signals on immigration

  • (DANA SUMMERS / Tribune Media Services)

Judging from the initial public reaction to the immigration reform bill drafted by the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” many Americans have been pretending to be moderates on this issue when they are actually closer to the extremes.

They’ve been saying one thing when they really believe another. They’ve been trying to fool the rest of us into thinking they’re fair-minded and ready to negotiate when actually their positions are set and their minds are shut. They’ve been stringing us along, saying they might support immigration reform as long as certain conditions are met. In truth, some of them would almost seem to prefer the status quo.

Now a group of senators from both parties has given them what they claim they wanted by introducing the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. It’s a meticulously crafted compromise that answers most of the concerns on the right and the left. In response, both sides are backtracking and changing the narrative. Regardless of whether they think our immigration policy should be tougher or more compassionate, they’re still not satisfied.

This could simply mean that the bill is a work in progress and a long way from perfect. But there’s more to it. What it really tells us is that many Americans haven’t been honest about what really concerns them. And this reveals a lot about their true intentions.

For instance, conservatives have claimed that they could support some type of legalization program for undocumented immigrants if the nation’s borders were secured and enforcement enhanced. They also insisted that they had nothing against legal immigrants, and that what really bothered them about the prospect of letting the undocumented remain in the United States legally was that the immigrants might go on welfare and “cut in line” with an expedited path to citizenship.

All this is addressed in the bill, which requires illegal immigrants to pay fines, eschew welfare and wait 10 years for a green card and another three years for U.S. citizenship. The legislation also smooths the path for legal immigrants and provides billions for more fencing, better surveillance and additional Border Patrol agents.

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