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Senate passes a border security bill -- and misses the point

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AFP/Alfredo Estrella/NEWSCOM

(Read caption) A US Border Patrol vehicle drives along the fence separating the US from Mexico, near the town of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

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In a visit to San Diego last year, I was curious and wanted to go to the border to see Mexico. I didn’t need to. There are enough things Mexican miles from the border – good restaurants, music, shops, and, yes, both legal and illegal immigrants. I never made it.

Like I was, the national debate over immigration has been very much focused on the border, or rather how to close it off to illegal crossings. The latest example: Just minutes before the Senate went on summer recess Thursday, it passed a $600 million “border security first” bill.

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While the measure certainly will add resources to border enforcement – more patrol agents, drones, prosecutors – its passage is more of a political act before the November elections. Democrats, while trying not to upset their Hispanic voters, know that they, like Republicans, must appeal to voters who want the US to show it can maintain a leak-proof border.

Just a few months ago, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Obama White House had promised “comprehensive” immigration reform this year, which would include an amnesty-like pathway to legal status for most illegal aliens. The White House did have a side thought: If this “reform” failed, Republicans could then be blamed and more Hispanics would go to the polls in anger to vote for Democrats..

Instead, the Hispanics are now angry at Democrats and President Obama, led by criticism from the popular Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. And according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, more people now think Republicans would do a better job of handling immigration, by a 32-27 margin. And in a Gallup poll on 13 issues, immigration is the one issue on which Obama gets his worst grade.

Both political parties need to broaden their horizons beyond border enforcement. Just as necessary is a crackdown on Americans employers who hire illegal workers. By raising the certainty that government agents will catch employers who break the law, jobs for illegal migrants would dry up and fewer Mexicans and others would try the dangerous border crossing.

Workplace raids, however, are difficult. They disrupt families of those who are arrested. Done humanely, however, they can still succeed in sending a signal to both employers and migrants that the law, like the border, actually means something.

Obama has increased the deportations of illegal immigrants – but mainly those who are caught violating other laws. He’s not inclined to capture the spirit of Arizona’s law SB 1070 and seek the arrest of some 10 million migrants in this country illegally.

Too bad. The cry for “enforcement first” isn’t only a border obsession. It begins wherever immigration law is being broken, whether by Americans or Mexicans.