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Crops are rotting in the fields

• Jul 17, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The following editorial was published recently in the Plain Dealer, Cleveland (TNS):

Whether you support the July 18 deportation order given to Jesus Lara Lopez — an undocumented Mexican factory worker and father of four U.S.-born children living in Willard, Ohio — or loathe it, one thing ought to be clear: There has to be a better way to run our nation's immigration system.

The United States got tantalizingly close to an immigration deal in 2013 during House Speaker John Boehner's tenure — a deal supported by business, labor and farm interests. That should tell you right there how critical immigration reform is to U.S. economic interests, supporting jobs and growth.

Since then, we have had violent pendulum swings — a consequence of immigration policy by executive fiat instead of a new law, starting with President Barack Obama and now continuing under President Donald Trump. That's just a recipe for confusion and unnecessary expense.

Perhaps given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump's successful presidential campaign, too few lawmakers these days are willing to step forward to argue for a more rational and beneficial policy. They ought to think again.

The damage this helter-skelter policy is causing to our economy and to our reputation as a nation of immigrants should force Ohio lawmakers to stand up and take the lead. We are calling on Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce of Bainbridge Township, along with Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, to begin a bipartisan effort dedicated to creating a better immigration policy.

Joyce admittedly has his hands full right now fending off attacks from within his own party over his principled opposition to breakneck, ill-considered health coverage reforms. But this problem is on his doorstep — his district east of Cleveland includes many undocumented immigrants working in the greenhouse businesses around Painesville.

Joyce told our editorial board that he'd heard from a number of folks in his district after The Plain Dealer publicized Lara Lopez's deportation case since many of them, he said, are in the same circumstance -- fearful to drive to work because they can't get an Ohio driver's license, but mindful that a traffic stop will make them subject to deportation and rip their families apart. No matter how long they have been here, if they're undocumented, there is no current path to U.S. citizenship.

Joyce clearly understands those policies must change — he advocates reform. But in terms of taking the lead on sweeping reforms, his position seems to be, not now, thanks.

He ought to change his mind. He, Brown and Portman, working together, could make it a high priority to reform an immigration policy that for too long has been arbitrary and unclear.

Trump has said that he wants to root out all of the undocumented, but particularly the "bad hombres." But are "bad hombres" the ones who primarily are being targeted?

Arrests of noncriminal undocumented residents, such as Lara Lopez, have zoomed more than 150 percent under Trump, to around 10,800 between Jan. 22 and April 29 of this year compared with 4,200 over a like period in 2016, according to figures on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

Is that a good use of our limited resources?

There are local economic considerations, as well. Ohio farmers often depend on migrant workers to pick their crops — and some complain that crops have been rotting in the fields.

A path to citizenship — with clear benchmarks for who can qualify and acceptable penalties for those who entered illegally or wrongly overstayed visas -- needs to exist. Brown, Portman, and Joyce must show the way in working to create a fair and sensible immigration policy that functions for everyone.

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©2017 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

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