EDITORIAL: Nunes, McCarthy can help immigration reform

The prevailing theory about immigration reform for many years was that it wouldn't happen because preserving the status quo served the Republican and Democratic parties equally well.

Doing nothing allowed Democrats to quietly appease labor unions opposed to cheap labor and legalizing undocumented workers while also providing a bullhorn for the party to label Republicans as obstructionists to reform.

Republicans, meanwhile, solicited campaign funds from business interests needing workers and then used that money to attract votes from folks who believed that America was being ruined by waves of immigrants ducking the Border Patrol.

President Obama's 2012 reelection, due in part to his popularity among Hispanics, appeared to bring a new calculus: both parties had to convince the country's fast growing bloc of Hispanic voters that they were serious about reform or risk losing future elections.

But calculations made quickly in the aftermath of an election often are forced to give way to political realities on the ground. Thus, the comprehensive reform package assembled in the U.S. Senate and passed with bipartisan support was stopped cold in a House of Representatives run by the Republicans.

Understand: a large number of Republicans, particularly those flying tea party colors, represent districts where many of the voters oppose any manner of immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

Achieving immigration reform that secures our borders, brings in highly skilled immigrants and immigrants simply willing to do the jobs that many Americans won't is in the best interests of our country and especially the San Joaquin Valley. We don't much care if it is done in one fell swoop as the Senate envisioned, or in a series of separate laws as House Republicans want.

As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office points out, overhauling our outdated and often counterproductive immigration system will boost our economy and reduce the deficit. In addition, reform that includes a path to legal residency or citizenship in the United States will bring millions of people out of the shadows and into fuller participation in the American way of life.

Here's our formula for overcoming politics as usual and passing immigration legislation that strengthens the nation and the economy:

* President Obama must roll up his sleeves and work with leaders in both parties instead of, as is his preference, staying far from the fray. This will require the president to listen to concerns, identify areas of mutual agreement and suggest compromises. Obama must be as focused on immigration as President Lyndon Johnson was on civil rights. And it wouldn't hurt for Obama to engage in old-fashioned horse-swapping LBJ style.

* House Speaker John Boehner must ignore the so-called "Hastert Rule," which demands support from a majority of the majority party before legislation is put to a vote in the House. Boehner, who says he supports reform, can get something passed with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats. Boehner must ask himself whether he is the Speaker of the House or merely the House leader of a largely uncontrollable majority party.

* House Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia, both of whom have influence in tea party circles, must do their best to convince conservative colleagues that immigration reform is a must for the country and for the long-term survival of the Republican brand.

Moreover, McCarthy and Nunes can both explain with authority how important a reliable supply of legal labor would be to agricultural states such California, Texas and Florida.

The GOP already has hurt itself immeasurably among Hispanics with the comments of Iowa Rep. Steve King. Last month, King said that for every young undocumented immigrant who is a school valedictorian, 100 more are "hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." The fact that this nativist serves on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security boggles the mind.

Congress is on recess until Sept. 9. We hope that when the lawmakers return, President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Reps. McCarthy and Nunes are willing to do what's necessary to rewrite the tired immigration script that both parties shamelessly have used for more than two decades.