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Editorial: Immigration — the political football game that never ends
A Mexican soldier patrols the international border bridge that connects Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, after its partial reopening Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

It didn’t take long for the political football everybody loves to kick but no one catches to come into play in Georgia’s U.S. Senate election.

GOP Senate candidate Gary Black has launched political advertising attacking Herschel Walker, the presumed frontrunner in the Republican race, for having in the past supported the concept of an amnesty program to allow those who are living in the country illegally a path to legal documentation.

Walker is former President Donald Trump’s favored candidate in the race, at least for now. He and Black both have spoken out about the need to improve border security and stop people from entering the country without following the legal process for 

doing so.

A steady stream of folks flowing through the Mexican border into the United States in recent months has provided plenty of fodder for the never-ending immigration debate to rage on, and now it seems destined to be a point of some contention in Georgia as the most recognizable names in the GOP field stake out a position on “what to do.”

The problem is, nobody knows what to do, and haven’t for decades.

Republicans can’t fix the problem. Democrats can’t fix the problem. Everybody agrees something needs to be done, but what that “something” is has avoided being addressed with long-term actionable strategy from one administration to the next.

It’s as though having the issue to rail about while campaigning is more important than finding a resolution that makes sense. And that’s been the case for a long time now.

Yes, we need better security at the border. Absolutely. But there’s no consensus in Washington on how to make that happen. Beyond a lot of heated dialogue over the subject, there’s not much real effort to get behind a bipartisan reform of immigration and border policy that has a likelihood of success.

Trump campaigned hard on the border issue and promised to build a wall to stop illegal immigration. But there was a lot more talk than building, and after four years of his presidency we’re still debating the same issues.

Barack Obama deported more illegal immigrants than any other president, but that didn’t solve the problem at the border, nor in our communities.

George W. Bush wanted to tighten the border while offering the existing illegal immigrants in the country a pathway to citizenship, but he never really moved the needle on the issue either.

Ronald Reagan was the foundational cornerstone of the current conservative Republican political movement. His administration enacted a sweeping amnesty program that moved some 3 million people from the shadows into legal legitimacy. But the other elements of his program meant to crack down on illegal immigration didn’t have the desired effect, and here we sit 35 years later with the same unresolved issues and four times the number of undocumented residents that were eligible for Reagan’s amnesty.

Republican presidents working with Republican congresses haven’t made it work. Nor have Democrats working with members of their own party in the nation’s highest leadership positions. And given the great divide in political posturing that has the government divided now, there’s no reason to think the Biden administration is going to be able to accomplish anything of consequence.

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So here we are, where we’ve been for years, with candidates shouting about what needs to be done while on the campaign trail only to see nothing really get done once they get in office.

The government estimates there are some 11 to 12 million people who fall into the category of “illegal” or “undocumented,” depending on which designation your political alliance feels is appropriate.

Those people are here. They are part of our communities, our workforce, our daily lives, and they have been for decades. In fact, the numbers have been pretty consistent for the last 15 years or so, according to government estimates. Homeland Security estimated that population at 11.3 million in 2006, and at 11.4 million in 2018, with fluctuations up and down in between.

There is no conceivable way that any government program is going to round up more than 11 million people from our communities and deport them en masse, without causing a civil war that will dwarf the first.

Meanwhile, encounters at the Mexico border hit a 21-year record in July, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of encounters in August only dipped slightly, according to data provided on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

The border needs more protection. It doesn’t need militarized action that results in men and women armed with the latest advancements in weaponry killing innocent people whose greatest sin is a desire to live in a country better than their own.

And those 12 million people who live among us and who are vital, contributing parts of our community need to know they have a path that one day will let them do so without having to look over their shoulders in constant fear of deportation.

Gary Black is Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture. He has testified before Congress on the need for federal guestworker programs to allow immigrants to be part of the state’s agricultural workforce. He has argued in the past for expanding those programs.

In 2011, he was asked: “Do you think our agricultural labor crisis in your region or state can be fixed without legalizing the current workforce?”

He said, “If legalizing means providing a work permit, that is the way I interpret that rule. We must have a viable guest worker program for agriculture.”

Let’s see, if you have an illegal work force, and provide a way to legalize that workforce ... wouldn’t that be a form of amnesty?

Let’s tee that political football up and kick it one more time.

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