Politics & Policy

The Specter of The Specter Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets Thursday to consider Sen. Arlen Specter’s immigration bill, which is the Senate’s counterpart to Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s comprehensive enforcement bill passed by the House in December. (For a comparison of the bills, go here.) Senator Specter’s proposal has been presented as a middle way between the extremes of pure amnesty and pure enforcement. On the contrary, it is perhaps the most radical immigration bill ever considered by Congress.

It starts out well, with long-overdue enforcement measures lifted from a bill sponsored by Senators Kyl and Cornyn that is tougher on enforcement. But it goes downhill from there. Specter’s proposal would amnesty the 10 million or so illegal aliens who were here before January 4, 2004, and their spouses and children–dwarfing the 1986 amnesty that granted legal status to some 3 million people. Unlike the 1986 measure, the recipients of this amnesty would not automatically be put on a path to citizenship (i.e., would not be given green cards), but would instead remain in the United States for the rest of their lives as non-citizens–a permanent underclass.

What’s more, the Specter bill would establish a program to admit foreign workers into any occupation anywhere in the United States as long as no American was willing to take the job at the offered wage. There is no limit on the number of workers who would be allowed to enter in this fashion, and they would get to bring their families. The term of their visa would be a maximum of six years, after which they would be expected to leave the country for at least one year.

The bargain of swapping amnesty for promises of future enforcement is the same bait-and-switch as in 1986, when amnesty was traded for a first-ever ban on hiring illegal aliens. But the ban was barely enforced, and once all the illegals were legalized it was effectively abandoned by the Clinton administration. Today, it is still ignored. Why should we expect things to be any different this time?

Furthermore, the amnesty and temporary-worker provisions of Specter’s bill are unmanageable. The argument that registering aliens will allow us to track them–and that this in turn is necessary to enforcing our borders–rests on the false premise that they can in fact be tracked. But the bureau within the Department of Homeland Security that would be responsible for screening, vetting, and tracking the guest workers and amnesty candidates is incapable of performing even its current responsibilities, and has a backlog of 4 million applications of various kinds. Only a member of Congress could imagine that such an overwhelmed bureaucracy is ready to successfully process untold millions more.

“The amnesty and

temporary-worker provisions

of Specter’s bill are

unmanageable.”

Passage of the Specter bill, or the equally bad McCain-Kennedy amnesty, would be an enormous mistake. The Senate would do better to pass only the enforcement-related titles of the Specter bill and let a compromise be worked out with the House. Even those who favor legalization and guest workers should see that a comprehensive enforcement bill is the best way forward. It would give Washington the chance to demonstrate that it is both willing to enforce the law and capable of doing it. Only after that demonstration should other immigration measures even be debated.

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