Our Views: A new start for immigrants

If there is any chance at all that the chaotic fiscal debate and government shutdown will ease, and there isn’t much yet, we hope that the members of Congress will not deadlock again on needed reforms in the nation’s patchwork of immigration law.

The Senate, with considerable bipartisan support — we don’t get to use that last phrase often enough — passed a compromise bill that would bring immigration laws up to date, spend more on border security and provide a path to citizenship for some of the 11 million immigrants here illegally.

If the word “bipartisan” isn’t used enough, perhaps the loaded word “illegal” is used too much. Many undocumented immigrants are people who have overstayed, for various reasons, legitimate visas to enter this country.

Others are simply workers seeking a better life for their families, as the many who came to Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The Hispanic population of the metro New Orleans area is growing, as it is in the state generally, although not perhaps as fast as the nation as a whole, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

The same trend is visible in Baton Rouge, likely spurred in part by construction work after Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

If those who have stayed and worked, contributing to the economy and to society, have not earned some sort of path to citizenship, there is no logical policy except to roust them all across the Mexican border, which is impossible.

Puentes New Orleans, the advocacy group, has joined with its national counterparts to push a comprehensive immigration bill. This is difficulty politically: The Republican leadership in the House has balked at the Senate bill, offering more piecemeal fixes to particular parts of the law — and we cannot help but wonder if that is more about stalling than reform. Even that level of engagement has been shelved for the moment because of the government shutdown. Is the comprehensive approach perfect? The Senate bill’s path to citizenship is expensive and long for the eligible families, and its border security expansions expensive and likely to be useless in the long run. Yet that is seen as the price for a bill that gets something done.

The policy judgment is clear: Immigration is good for America, and it’s good for Louisiana. It is the politics of deadlock that stand in the way of change, and like “illegal,” a loaded phrase for some in the GOP is “path to citizenship.”

Surely, though, if politics now stands in the way of reforms, the long-term interests of both political parties are clear in the growing Hispanic vote. That might ease deadlock over the proposals, even in this benighted political year.