Politics & Policy

Bad Senate Deal

The McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill.

This bipartisan deal cut by Sen. John McCain is noxious. No, the issue isn’t judges. (Or campaign finance, or health care, or any number of other things.) It’s illegal immigration and a proposal that has just been cooked up by the Arizona maverick and the Massachusetts non-maverick Sen. Ted Kennedy to grant an amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

Under the bill, illegals would have to work in the U.S.–which they are already doing–for six years as legal temporary workers, then they would be eligible to apply for green cards. Also, a new category of guest workers would be created who would work here for four years, then be eligible for green cards. This category will likely bring another 400,000 (and probably more) foreign workers a year into the country.

McCain and Kennedy argue that their legislation isn’t an amnesty because illegals have to pay a $1,000 fine prior to becoming temporary workers and another $1,000 before getting their green cards. But an amnesty with a small fine is still amnesty. Mark Krikorian of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies calls the fine, in effect, “a retroactive smuggling fee paid to the U.S. government.” The bill could make illegals stand on one foot and wave their arms before becoming legal–but it would still be an amnesty.

It applies to any illegal with a job, and to his spouse and children. There are roughly 10 million to 11 million illegals. Of them, 6 million to 7 million are employed, and the rest are generally spouses and children.

We’ve been here before. A 1986 amnesty gave 2.7 million illegals green cards. The law spawned massive fraud. A man who would go on to be one of the terrorists in the first World Trade Center bombing, an Egyptian cabdriver working in New York, was legalized under the law as a farmworker.

The 1986 law caused a huge spike in the flow of illegals. It sent a message of tolerance for lawbreaking, and would-be illegal Mexican immigrants had an important toehold in the U.S. in the form of their newly legal friends and family. Today, the illegal population is double what it was in 1986, and an estimated 800,000 new illegals come every year.

How did such disastrous legislation pass? 1986 was one of the great bait-and-switches of all time. The amnesty came upfront, and the enforcement was supposed to happen later.

It never did.

The McCain-Kennedy bill has the hallmarks of continuing in the tradition of the 1986 legislation. The Department of Homeland Security has already started a program for employers to check an online database to see if a prospective employee is legal. McCain-Kennedy would tell the Social Security Administration to start the program from scratch. Oddly, it gives the job of auditing companies to ensure that they aren’t hiring illegals to the ineffectual Labor Department instead of the perhaps slightly less ineffectual immigration service at DHS. “A lot of it seems intended actually to handcuff DHS enforcement people,” says Krikorian. The rest of the enforcement provisions are a mishmash of calls for reports, coordination plans, advisory committees–in other words, the usual dodges when politicians want the public to think they are doing something they don’t want to do.

The legislation stipulates that it doesn’t grant state and local police any more authority to enforce immigration laws, but it goes out of its way to include language about securing Mexico’s border with Guatemala. This bizarre concern reflects a concept–bandied about by the Bush administration as well–called the “North American security perimeter.” It holds that we can all be one happy North American family, and the U.S.-Mexico border won’t matter so much, if only we can keep those pesky Central Americans (and others) out of Mexico.

Of course, we should keep our focus about 1,600 miles north of the Mexico-Guatemala line, at our own border. The first step is defeating McCain-Kennedy.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate


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