Politics & Policy

Don’t Pass Just Anything

The Senate immigration "compromise" won't do.

When the U.S. Senate returns later this month from spring recess, it will get a second chance to pass meaningful immigration reform. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) has promised to hold new hearings and report out a revised bill by May 4. The committee’s starting point will be the so-called Hagel-Martinez “compromise” bill that failed to pass the Senate earlier this month.

That bill, however, is fatally flawed, and I would like to point out several reasons why the committee should either rewrite it substantially or start from a clean slate. Among the problems with the compromise proposal:

‐Cost: The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will increase the deficit by $29 billion in just five years and more than that in the years to come.

‐The broad and vague work requirements are an open invitation for fraud. No continuous or full-time work is required, and the department of Homeland Security must accept “reasonable inferences” of work as qualifying evidence that the alien is eligible.

‐Illegal aliens who do not qualify for the mass amnesty (because they have been here for less than two years) can qualify for the bill’s new low-skilled “essential worker” program without ever leaving the U.S. In other words, no illegal alien will be left behind.

‐New “essential workers” do not have to be “essential” to stay in the United States. Once here, an alien simply can not be unemployed for “60 or more consecutive days.” Therefore, “essential” workers have a legal right to remain in the U.S. if they are working as little as one or two days out of every two months.

‐The “essential worker” program is not a temporary-worker program. The bill contains no economic trigger allowing workers to be sent home when the U.S. economy dips. Because these workers are eligible for green cards as soon as they enter the United States, once they are here, they will not have to ever leave, and, possessors of green cards are on a direct path to citizenship.

‐The “essential worker” program is essentially uncapped. The 325,000 annual numerical cap automatically adjusts each time the cap is reached, providing 65,000 additional visas in the first year, and an additional 20-percent increase the next year. An additional 3.9 million low-skilled workers could enter the U.S. in the first 6 years. All will be eligible for green cards.

‐Currently, the annual employment green-card cap is 140,000 and family members count against that cap. Under the compromise, the number goes to 450,000 and family members may come and not count against the cap. This means the total employment-based green cards under the program alone will reach 990,000 annually! To create such a new program that will be larger than all other green-card categories combined without careful study and public input is colossally irresponsible.

‐The bill provides free legal counsel paid for by the American taxpayer to illegal-alien agricultural workers.

‐The bill reverses current law and allows illegal aliens to be eligible for in-state tuition rates, and compete with U.S. citizens and legal residents for Stafford loans, and other types of federal financial aid, such as work study.

The United States benefits both economically and culturally from immigration, but there are security risks and costs also to consider. A wise country will seek to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs all the while insuring that the system is operated in a lawful manner. Our approach should not be based on emotions, polls, or politics. It should be founded on the legitimate national interests of the United States. Determining those legitimate interests requires a sustained and thoughtful inquiry into all the factors important to the nation.

While we all agree the present system is broken, and our lack of enforcement makes a mockery of the law, we have conducted no national dialogue on what our goals for the future should be. That is why I believe the compromise failed and why I believe a rush to pass “something” would represent a colossal failure by the Senate to meet its responsibility to the American people.

If the Senate wants to be successful in passing immigration reform, its first priority should be to approve a bill to secure the borders and increase interior-enforcement infrastructure. Then we can move on to discussions about fair and humane treatment of the illegal-alien population and the future flow of immigrants across our borders.

The Honorable Jeff Sessions is a Republican U.S. senator from Alabama.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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