Why the rush? Because, to be blunt, the senators don't trust the American people to make sound judgments on such emotional issues as family reunification and national sovereignty. But the proper response to this is to engage the public in the discussion, not to short-circuit the deliberative process. One of the reasons the American people are cynical about government is that they don't believe its officials take the time to discharge their duties properly. Now a 1,000 page immigration bill is being put before senators for a vote without anyone having the time to study its details. Many will merely be leaning on talking points prepared by their staff.
There is no doubt that the lack of deliberation will create surprises if the bill passes. Last year the Senate passed, but the House never took up, an 850-page immigration bill. Among the reasons the bill died in the House was that members were furious about last-minute Senate amendments. One required the U.S. to consult with Mexican officials before any new fence construction could take place along the border. Another allowed for discounted in-state tuition at state colleges and universities for illegal aliens who reside in those states. Legal immigrants and citizens who resided in other states would still have had to pay the full price.
The irony is that this is the Internet age. The entire immigration bill could and should be posted online in a format that would allow changes to be instantaneously added and highlighted. We pay our legislators well to represent us and evaluate legislation, but the immigration bill would probably benefit by giving constituents the ability to look over their shoulders and shine a light on provisions that might sink the bill further along in the legislative process.
There's an old rule in Washington that in dealing with any tough issue, half the politicians hope that citizens don't understand it, while the other half fear that people actually do. Here's hoping that members of Congress and the White House ignore that tendency and come around to the view that in the age of the Internet the people have to be consulted. In retrospect, it's clear that the 1986 Simpson-Mizzoli reform with its flawed amnesty provisions and lack of a workable guest-worker program would never have passed if the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle had existed then. The only way to pass this latest reform is to recognize how much the world of instant communication has changed politics.
Populism — supporting the rights and power of average citizens — can be at the extremes dangerous and demagogic. But in as large and diverse a country as the U.S. consulting the people as closely as possible may be the only way to pass an immigration bill that will stand the test of time.
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