Romney, Perry square off in CNN debate

If you watched the Republican presidential candidates debate Tuesday night in Las Vegas, you heard a couple things beyond the usual bashing (some deserved, I do not argue) of President Obama’s lackluster tour of White House duty.

First, after the initial blistering of Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax reform proposal, you heard that a candidate’s religion (i.e., Mitt Romney’s Mormonism) should not be a litmus test for the presidency . . . and those who have called that faith into question (or, their supporters have done so, at least) were skittering away from the issue like cockroaches in a dirty kitchen when the lights come on.

And then there was, of course, the immigration problem, or more specifically, the illegal immigration conundrum. Rick Perry called Romney a hypocrite for having hired “illegals,” while Romney says it was the lawn work contractor, unknown to him, who had hired the undocumented workers — and he fired the contractor when he found out about it.

Cain earlier this week had joked, off the cuff, about electrifying the border fence and posting signs, presumably bilingual caution: “It will kill you — warning!”

When asked how to stem the tide of illegal immigration, what we are not hearing from candidates are specific ideas about how to preserve our history as a nation of immigrants while preserving the rule of law. What we definitely are not hearing is how the businessmen who hire, if not quietly recruit the millions of desperate Latinos to cross the border for sub-minimum wage jobs, should be sent to prison.

No, we continue to hunt down, jail and deport folks who are mostly guilty only of misdemeanor illegal entry while leaving the fat cats who grow rich off their labor remain above the fray, counting their money, or at worst getting what amounts to slaps on the hands.

With desperation, history shows us, always comes predators trying to cash in on the plight of the working poor. Criminal elements, drug gangs and killers, use the innocent — by charging them what little they have to be led across deserts, and to pack in their contraband.

We are right in hunting down the criminals. And we should enforce immigration laws, if we are to be a nation of laws. But it is time for that enforcement to fall, with its full weight, on those who profit from illegal immigrant labor.

If crossing the border is a misdemeanor for the man or woman smuggled in to make enough money to send back home to a hungry family, then those who lure them here to enrich their bottom lines should face felonies and serious financial penalties and prison.

Compassionate immigration policy?

As a nation of faith, indeed many faiths, we are called to compassion. That means fair and legal opportunities for immigration.

As a nation of law, we have a responsibility to enforce the laws fairly, unafraid to demand justice from those most responsibly for the chaos on the border. Remove the incentive for what amounts to illegal immigration-based racketeering, and then address how best to fairly provide opportunities to new generations of newcomers.

After all, unless you are Native American, we all e all come from immigrants to these shores.

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