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Time to build trust on immigration

The time is not ripe for reform, and should be used to improve enforcement against illegals.

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If Janet Napolitano had her way, the nominee to head Homeland Security would take a two-track approach to solving America's illegal immigration problem. Enforcement, yes, says the Arizona governor, and also immigration "reform." She's unlikely to get her way – but she can turn that into a plus.

To push border and employer enforcement while also changing laws to accommodate new temporary workers and absorb illegal aliens already here, Governor Napolitano would need the cooperation of Congress. The prospect of that happening anytime soon is as remote as the Arizona desert, and the politics just as inhospitable.

In 2006 and 2007, Congress failed at compromise on illegal migration, an issue that confronts many countries.

Americans clearly wanted stronger enforcement of the nation's immigration laws. This had to come before any attempt at reforms to create a program for temporary workers to enter the country legally or to allow undocumented migrants in the US to walk a punitive path to citizenship, which many deem amnesty.

Now the topic has slipped down the nation's to-do list, crowded out by a terrible economy and an apparent drop in the number of illegals. With economists talking about 10 percent unemployment in 2009, the timing is all wrong for the reform part of Napolitano's equation.

But this creates an opportunity to build on the Bush administration's recent enforcement efforts.

A total of 670 miles of border fencing was expected to be completed by the end of 2008 – pretty much all of the 700 miles authorized by Congress in 2006. Napolitano harrumphs at the barrier ("show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder"), but it's a speed bump that makes the border patrol's job easier.

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