Senatorial Sidebar
Did I misrepresent Kyl-Cornyn?


John O’Sullivan

If so, I will gladly apologize. We all make mistakes. This is one occasion on which I would gladly be wrong.

But let’s examine the record. The original amendment that the two senators proposed would have simply made criminals ineligible for amnesty of citizenship. This was opposed with extraordinary bitterness by Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Democrat leader, who said ringingly: “We’re not going to allow amendments like Kyl-Cornyn to take out what we believe is the goodness of this bill.” Since the criminals who would have been barred by Kyl-Cornyn (and who were therefore being proposed for citizenship by Sen. Reid) included kidnappers, alien smugglers, and money-launderers, this was very odd. What exactly was the “goodness” they embodied?

Well, he probably realized that an amendment barring felons from citizenship would bar many, perhaps millions, of the illegals the Democrats wanted the bill to amnesty, as explained in the next paragraph. He duly blocked that amendment and all other amendments in the first round. When the Senate returned to its second set of deliberations, cooler Democrat heads must have prevailed. Or something. Negotiations between the Democrats and the two senators produced the amended Kyl-Cornyn amendment restoring the ban on those guilty of one felony or three misdemeanors.

What else does it do? Here is where it gets tricky. Senator Cornyn’s office argues that it would grant only two modest waivers to “status violators who could show that their deportation would cause ‘extreme hardship’ to a U.S. citizen or green-card holder, or those who could prove that they did not receive their hearing notice or some other extreme circumstance . . .” That seems not unreasonable. But is it the whole enchilada?

What of those illegal aliens who have illegally entered the U.S. two or more times. First-time illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor, but a second illegal entry into the U.S. is a felony, and multiple illegal entries are several felonies. Since probably millions of the estimated twelve million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. have gone back and forth across the border on several occasions, they have committed felonies. Would they all be denied amnesty and citizenship under the latest Kyl-Cornyn amendment? I don’t think so. Nor does Senator Reid today. And this section from the amendment seems on the face of it to establish that we are both right:

(B) *EXCEPTION.*–Notwithstanding subparagraph (A), an alien who
has not been ordered removed from the United States shall remain
eligible for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status under this
section if the alien’s ineligibility under subparagraph (A) is solely
related to the alien’s–
“(i) entry into the United States without inspection;
“(ii) remaining in the United States beyond the period of authorized
admission; or
“(iii) failure to maintain legal status while in the United States.”

That was why I argued that under this amended amendment “immigration-related felonies” would no longer bar someone from citizenship and amnesty. Perhaps I was wrong on a technicality. Perhaps this paragraph was inoperative for some reason. I can’t be sure. But was I wrong on the fact of the matter? I would be happy to be proved so–and to apologize. So far I don’t think I was.

This is a minor dispute, however, altogether modest compared to the larger problem faced by Senators Kyl and Cornyn: Namely, that they are good men seeking to improve a bill designed by Democrats and immigration lawyers. It can’t be done. House Republicans, please note.

John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.



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