Now that S.744 has passed the Senate, and the baton has been passed to the lower chamber, the House of Representatives has been afforded a significant opportunity to change the debate on immigration reform. It is imperative that it takes it.
From the start of this process, most of the attention has been on the measures that address what Americans should do with those who are here illegally. But the Gang of Eight’s bill is far-reaching — “comprehensive,” if you will — and it quietly and radically changes the legal immigration regime as well. While reform of the system is necessary, the way in which S.744 would do it is deeply problematic. As John Hinderaker notes over at Powerline:
The fundamental problem with the bill is what it does with legal immigration. Instead of reforming our Ted Kennedy-inspired, irrational 60s-era immigration regime, it perpetuates it and even makes it worse. Thus, the Bill authorizes somewhere between 30 million and 60 million new legal immigrants over the next ten years, 90% of them low-skill and low-wage.
This is exactly what it does, once again eschewing merit-based immigration for a family-based system and privileging low-skilled immigration uber alles. (If you’re suspicious of criticisms of this from the Right, the New Republic’s T. A. Frank has a good piece here.)
In responding to the Senate, the first thing that the House should do is to split up the issues. Republicans should insist that they are presented with one bill that deals with the border and the illegal population, and another bill (at least) that covers legal reform. There is no reason whatsoever why advocates of amnesty should have to sign on to sweeping legal reform, and there is no reason whatsoever why those who want to change the legal system should have to acquiesce with border measures that they dislike. Immigration is a problem, but is not a crisis in the sense that the invasion of Pearl Harbor was a crisis. Contrary to the cries of some, America has the time to debate properly measures that will define who joins the polity over the next two decades and more. It should take that time.
If I had carte blanche, I would have the House start over on the legal side. There are a few good things in the Senate bill — the abolition of the Green Card lottery among them. But it fails to bring immigration law into line with what, in my experience, Americans think that immigration law is. And, worse, it builds on a 1965 law that was deeply unpopular at the time and that has done precisely what its advocates swore blind that it would not. The House should put together a bill — or, better, a series of bills — that would, among other things, abolish the green card lottery, limit family-based immigration to spouses and children, increase high-skilled visas, institute a limited Bracero-style temporary worker program, require English proficiency for permanent residency (not visas), and feature a modest version of the DREAM Act. Most important, it would invert the balance between skills-based and family-based immigration in the favor of the former. And it would make it clear that the total number of legal immigrants should at the very least remain the same and should certainly not increase, possibly drawing any amnesty visas granted to illegals from an overall total.
Having done these things, it should send the bill to the Senate for approval. If the Senate refuses, so be it. The status quo is better than is S.744, and Americans appear barely to care about the issue. Immigration reform is neccesary, but not so necessary that anything will do. John Boehner will do well if he remembers that.