Politics & Policy

Reckless in The Senate

one amnesty is not enough. That’s the message the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Monday. It passed a proposal that not only embraces the McCain-Kennedy guest-worker program and amnesty for illegals, but throws in a separate amnesty for illegal agricultural workers and another for illegal-alien graduates of high school, who will get legal status and in-state tuition to college. This is a festival of amnesty that throws legal status at every form of illegal alien, sometimes twice over. The Judiciary Committee proposal also would give work permits to an additional 400,000 entrants a year, almost enough to match the 500,000 illegal aliens who already cross the border annually. All this is essentially an attempt to legalize every illegal alien who is in the country, or thinking of coming to the country. The Judiciary Committee proposal makes McCain-Kennedy look modest by comparison.

This is a travesty. Looking at survey data that show overwhelming support for a crackdown on illegal immigration and opposition to a guest-worker program and amnesty, the Judiciary Committee decided to tell the American people to shove it. No matter how fed up the public is with out-of-control immigration, the political class always has one solution: even more if it. Apparently, protesters waving Mexican flags–many of them illegals themselves–are what really get these senators’ attention. The New York Times reports: “Lawmakers central to the immigration debate acknowledged that the televised images of tens of thousands of demonstrators, waving flags and fliers, marching in opposition to tough immigration legislation helped persuade the panel to find a bi-partisan compromise.” So there you have it–your illegal-alien amnesty, brought to you in part by illegal aliens marching in the streets. Have Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin been giving the Judiciary Committee tips on how to kowtow to demonstrators?

Only four Republican senators–Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham, Sam Brownback, and Mike DeWine–voted with the committee’s Democrats for the proposal. Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 from the right, but yesterday he probably injured his ability to do so. Conservatives will long remember his vote for this reckless proposal.

The action now shifts to the Senate floor. Majority Leader Bill Frist, true to his word, is bringing to the floor his own bill instead of the Judiciary Committee proposal, since the committee’s measure didn’t garner majority support from its Republican members. That Frist is doing this doesn’t matter much, however, because lax Senate rules will let Specter immediately try to substitute his proposal for Frist’s. The majority leader’s legislation is far from perfect–we don’t like its large increase in legal immigration–but it rejects a guest-worker program and amnesty and puts greater emphasis on enforcement. Much commentary has noted that Frist is hoping to further his own 2008 ambitions by championing the pro-enforcement cause. This is no doubt true, but it is a case where the politics of an issue lines up nicely with its merits.

In the bruising weeks ahead, Frist needs to be a leader in making the case against a guest-worker program and an amnesty. He should begin to talk of a two-stage process: more enforcement now, with any debate on a guest-worker program or amnesty put off until after the November elections. This will avoid a catastrophic election-year revolt of the party’s base that the Judiciary Committee proposal would cause should it become law. It will also go some distance toward allaying fears of a 1986-style bait-and-switch, in which greater enforcement was promised in exchange for an amnesty but the enforcement never came. Once enforcement measures are in place, once the illegal population begins to decline, then we can discuss how to deal with illegals who are here and entrenched in our society. If Frist can effectively make this case, he will have done the nation a service. And conservatives will be paying attention.

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