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OPINION: Don’t Let Boston Bombings Derail Immigration Reform

April 23, 2013, 3:37 PM HST
* Updated April 23, 3:45 PM
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A tragedy is a terrible thing to waste.

While a 19-year-old Chechen immigrant was being hunted by thousands of law enforcement officials, Sen. Chuck Grassley wasted no time exploiting the Boston Marathon bombings. The Iowa Republican attempted to put the brakes on immigration reform, urging caution “given events of this week.”

Grassley questioned “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil? How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the US?”

It was an absurd point to be making at the time, since authorities already knew that the younger of the two bombers, Dhokhar Tsarnaev, was 8-years-old when he arrived in the US. If only Grassley had been there to ask him “Will you by chance become a radicalized Muslim in the next 11 years?”

The Boston Marathon bombings of course have little to do with immigration policy, but that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from trying to build a rickety 6,000 mile bridge between Mexico and Chechnya.

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It’s a weak argument of course, but it shows just how desperate some people are to derail immigration reform this year. It’s also a sign that we’re actually close to getting a viable deal between Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Marco Rubio is promoting a wide-ranging immigration reform bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio is promoting a wide-ranging immigration reform bill.

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In case you weren’t aware, a group of Senators, including Marco Rubio (R-FL) are promoting a reform bill that has the backing of leaders from both the US Chamber of Commerce and major labor unions like the AFL-CIO.

The bill addresses four major goals:

1) A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

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2) Providing green cards to those earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math from US universities.

3) Implementing a verification system that makes employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants.

4) Creating an expanded guest-worker program to fill jobs Americans cannot or do not want to fill.

In part to appease border-obsessed constituents (many of whom don’t live anywhere near an actual border), the senators have included a provision stating that any path to citizenship for illegals must only occur after the Mexican border is deemed “secure.”

Although immigration reform is often associated with Mexico, much of the bill’s contents could actually have a beneficial impact in states like Hawaii.

Pineapple growers are facing immense low-wage competition internationally. Image courtesy UC Davis.

Pineapple growers are facing immense low-wage competition internationally. Image courtesy UC Davis.

The University of Hawaii is home to more than a few foreign-born science and engineering students, many of whom would gladly stick around longer if allowed to do so. Unless you think having a few more smart people living here is a bad thing, this should be a no-brainer.

On the other end of the spectrum, our rapidly declining agricultural industry is increasingly dependent on relatively low-skilled labor, often of foreign origin. Providing a more robust (and hopefully transparent) guest-worker program can help to meet the labor needs of an industry that is central to the oft-repeated goal of “sustainability.”

In the midst of bomb threats and terror plots, we shouldn’t allow a select few people to use cultural paranoia for political gain. If you’re in favor of common-sense immigration reform, speak up.

Don’t let the xenophobes win this one.

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