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Democrats play games on immigration in Build Back Better bill


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One reason that so many voters distrust our leaders is the sense that they’re constantly playing games and skirting the rules.

Like, say, enacting a huge immigration policy change within a tax-and-spend bill.

That’s what Democrats in Congress hope to do. The “Build Back Better” social legislation that the House approved Friday would continue the federal spending spree on child care, climate change mitigation and health care. And it would create a temporary legal status for millions of people who came here illegally. It’s not a path to citizenship, but it’s a first step.

It’s bad policy, bad politics and bad timing. Legalization will encourage more people to flood the southern border, after a year in which charts had to be redrawn to show the explosion in illegal immigration. The message couldn’t be clearer: Just get here and you’ll almost certainly be able to stay.

But most of all, it’s a bad way to make law. Progress on illegal immigration has been elusive, in part because our leaders have insisted on trying to solve too many problems all at once. The legal-status provisions seem unlikely to survive the Senate, where perhaps it’s dawning on lawmakers that trying to remake the world all at once creates a juicy target for the law of unintended consequences.

The first step has to be getting a handle on the flood of migrants, particularly by cracking down on asylum claims.

Then, the country needs better policies on who can come legally and why. Start with allowing more of the workers the U.S. needs. That’s not just the highly educated and most skilled — our labor shortages stretch across the economy.

Policies must be humane, too, allowing for reasonable family reunification and compassion for those in need. And millions of otherwise law-abiding residents need to be able to stay and, with the proper steps, have a chance to fully join the American family.

There’s opportunity for compromise within each of these debates. But when debate is squelched and law is made through a side door, the natural reaction is cynicism and hardened positions. And on immigration, there’s already plenty of each.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in our opinion newsletter, Worth Discussion. It’s delivered every Wednesday with a fresh take on the news and a roundup of our best editorials, columns and other opinion content. Sign up here.

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Ryan J. Rusak is opinion editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He grew up in Benbrook and is a TCU graduate. He spent more than 15 years as a political journalist, overseeing coverage of four presidential elections and several sessions of the Texas Legislature. He lives in east Fort Worth.