Oregon residents should require their elected federal officials to make immigration reform one of the nation's top priorities.

Until the federal government does act, we will see this issue increasingly pit people against people and prompt public pressure for local policies that only restrict, not manage, immigration.

The matter of dealing with illegal immigration is prominent in people's minds. A recent poll by a Portland television station suggests that more than 75 percent of those responding to the survey would support crackdowns on the employment of illegal immigrants.

Along the way, the federal government's failure to adopt and fund effective policies to solve the immigration crisis is prompting cities and counties across the nation to enact local ordinances. These solutions typically involve crackdowns and penalties on the employment and housing of illegal immigrants.

Address the issue federally

A patchwork of local prohibitions is a scary thought.

We believe that communities without such ordinances will be perceived as safe harbors by both legal and illegal immigrants, while other communities known as being tough on undocumented workers and their families will be fearfully avoided.

These laws don't create healthy communities, and they certainly don't solve the overall illegal-immigration problem. They only push it around.

And federal courts are finding that many of these local ordinances are in violation of the Constitution, which protects due-process rights for all people - not just U.S. citizens.

Oregon's own ground zero for the immigration controversy is located but a few miles outside Portland. Over the past few months, the controversy over illegal immigration has grown to a boil in Columbia County, whose communities of Scappoose and St. Helens are increasingly becoming part of the metro area.

In July, local activist Wayne Mayo asked the Columbia County Board of Commissioners to pass ordinances to create an 'illegal-worker-free county' and to punish builders and employers who hire illegal immigrants with a $15,000 fine.

The effort may be headed to the voters, as Mayo prepares to collect initiative signatures to put the matter on the county's November 2008 ballot. Meanwhile, Mayo is conducting a parallel effort within the city of St. Helens.

All the while, local citizens increasingly are debating the concept within letters to the editors of Columbia County newspapers. Some of these letters describe people as bigots or racists and debate the matter of discrimination - yet few offer real solutions to the matter of illegal immigrants.

That responsibility rests with elected officials in Washington, D.C., who backed away from a reasonable package of immigration-reform laws earlier this year that would have beefed up border security, allowed immigrants already in this country a legal path to citizenship and provided for a guest-worker program.

Put pressure on Congress

President Bush's ultimate legacy may be his failure to extricate America from the war in Iraq. But his inability to lead the nation to immigration reform will be equally damaging.

Oregon's U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Darlene Hooley, David Wu, Greg Walden and Peter DeFazio should make sure that Oregon and the nation are not further harmed by the federal government's failure to act.

Oregonians should call upon Congress before the end of this year to begin to meaningfully and significantly address this issue, and to set the stage for complete solutions to be adopted in 2008 and 2009.

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