The most objectionable feature of the bill is this: While there would no doubt be a great deal of theater involved in the evaluation of the three main security triggers described above, the trigger for the amnesty itself — creating “provisional” legal status for the millions who have entered the country illegally — would be almost entirely meaningless: The Department of Homeland Security would merely have to affirm in writing that it had plans to do something about border security, and that money had been appropriated for doing so. That’s it: no rigorous empirical standard, just the fact of having a plan.
Which is to say, this is an amnesty-first bill, despite protestations to the contrary. Under its provisions, illegals would be made legal almost immediately. The three-part security test would need to be satisfied only for the embarkation upon the “path to citizenship.” But citizenship is of little value to those who crossed the border illegally for purposes that are mainly economic and whose U.S.-born children will be citizens regardless. In this sense, the compromise combines the worst of both worlds: It offers an immediate amnesty that creates a magnet for even more illegal immigration, and then it leaves those illegals lingering for years as part of a permanent underclass, doing little toward assimilating them into the mainstream of American life.
The Gang of Eight bill is a cobbled-together beast, a truly ugly creature of politics. If Washington were serious about border security and controlling illegal immigration, then Congress would pass a mandatory E-Verify bill, and the executive would enforce it, finish the job of securing the border, and implement visa controls. More broadly, our immigration procedures would be reoriented toward the economic needs of the country rather than other concerns. Once that had been accomplished — once credibility on the issue of border control had been restored — then the time might come to talk about normalizing the status of those who are here illegally. Many of them have been here for decades, and there is no particular urgency in the matter of legalizing them.
It is unlikely that the Gang of Eight bill can be saved through the amendment process — it is structurally defective because the thinking behind it is defective. We have laws, and we have lavishly funded law-enforcement agencies. What we lack is political leadership that will put law enforcement and the national interest above parochial concerns, be they commercial or ethnic. The Gang of Eight bill will not change that. Nor will promises that this time it’s different.