Paul Greenberg

How describe the stalemate, gridlock or whatever it is in the U.S. Senate? I'd say it's a Mexican standoff, almost literally. Because the subject is illegal immigration, which continues pretty much unimpeded while Congress bickers. Whatever you want to call that impasse in Washington, it's no advertisement for the democratic process.

If Winston Churchill was right and democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, just imagine how sorry all the others must be. Because to watch Congress in action on this issue, or rather inaction, is to watch democracy choke on its own clogged process. The spectacle would be enough to turn a red-blooded American into a monarchist - if not for that late unpleasantness circa 1776.

When it was announced that Congress was taking some time off for its spring recess, an observer would have to ask: Recess from what?

After a lot of fuss-'n'-feathers, and the announcement that a Great Compromise had finally been reached in the Senate with smiles and handshakes and press conferences all around . . . the whole, carefully crafted arrangement fell apart. And so the challenge of illegal immigration, one of the more pressing pieces of business facing the nation for years now, remains stalled.

For a brief moment, it looked as if Congress might actually do something constructive. The Senate seemed poised to do the right thing: strengthen the country's porous southern border, expand its guest-worker program and pave the way for millions of illegal immigrants who have led a productive life in this country to get in line for citizenship.

Granted, the Senate bill is far from a perfect solution to a problem that has been allowed to grow into a mean and divisive issue. For just one example, illegal immigrants were going to be divided according to how long they'd been in this country. Which ones, do you suppose, would step forward and say they hadn't been here long enough to qualify for legal status and volunteer to be deported? (They may be illegal, but they ain't dumb.)

And how were our uninvited guests going to prove just when they'd arrived - by presenting the visas they'd never troubled to get? If we were really serious about keeping track of folks in this country in these post-9/11 times, we'd be issuing national identification cards to the whole population, but of course any solution so comprehensive, or so rational, would violate every taboo of our still frontier culture.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.