To some, the demise of a comprehensive immigration-reform measure in the U.S. Senate was inevitable. It was too much, too fast, too sticky.
To others - including me - the disappointing, terminating vote represented just another example of the kind of shortsighted behavior in Washington, D.C., that should cause voters to consider non-incumbent candidates next year.
About a third of U.S. senators will be up for re-election in 2008. Those who turned thumbs down to the immigration reform plan should be given one-way tickets home.
Some readers no doubt will find that judgment a bit harsh. Why punish senators, who may have otherwise decent records, for their poor decision on a single issue?
Quite simply, certain topics allow elected officials the luxury of coasting or holding back. Others, including immigration reform, are so vital to the long-term health and stability of the nation that they require political leaders to step up to the plate. Those who shirk their responsibility ought not be invited to stay.
I heartily agree with Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican and a key supporter of the immigration-reform plan, who lamented the absence of courage on the part of those who abandoned the legislation. By the way, Republicans and Democrats share the blame for this failure.
In contrast, both Martinez and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, showed that they had the right stuff by voting to move toward final passage of there form measure.
When the disappointing word arrived, I was at the Hispanic Summit in Orlando, coincidentally preparing to moderate a panel discussion on immigration reform. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros had just addressed the audience, emphasizing, among other items, the importance of bringing the 12 million or so illegal immigrants out of their nebulous status and extending to them the treatment that human beings deserve.
With the exception of a few people who can trace their entire family roots to the original inhabitants of what is now the United States, all Americans have immigrants in their history. Not surprisingly, those with more recent immigration experience displayed stronger interest in the proposed fix.
Although it was far from perfect, the now-defunct legislation provided an opening to talk about practical, sensible ways to move undocumented immigrants toward legality within a revised system of rules; ideas to toughen border security; and better methods to crack down on U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants. The discussion could have been constructively shaped in a multitude of directions.
Sadly, it was not. Most predict that the issue will not return - in a comprehensive fashion, anyway - for a few years, if then. At best, they say, we can expect piecemeal approaches to the various immigration challenges in the coming months.
Well, piecemeal is not good enough. Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform should redouble their efforts to maintain the issue's visibility. They should continue to hold their rallies; press political candidates both congressional and presidential - to include immigration reform among their top priorities; insist that immigration reform be part of campaign debates; and reward responsive candidates with their nods at the polls.
John C. Bersia is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida. Readers may send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.