“Laws are like sausages,” said Otto von Bismarck famously, “it’s better not to see them being made.” That’s probably true even for good laws and good sausages. But there are times when the law or the sausage seems to represent the dubious process of its manufacture all too faithfully. In a word: it smells. And the last week of law-making in the U.S. Senate, which is expected to produce “comprehensive immigration reform” by the end of today or tomorrow, has been especially odiferous.
Let’s take the amendments passed, rejected or tabled in the last week:
- Two valuable amendments were passed early on: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R. Ala.) who has been a hero of commonsense in this debate, proposed the building of a 370 mile fence on the border; and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) proposed an amendment to reduce the intake of guest-workers from 320,000 to 200,000 annually. Valuable though these amendments are, however, their impact is modest. Four-fifths of the southern border will still be fenceless and the number of immigrants admitted to the U.S. over the next twenty years will still be 66 million. And after those amendments it was all downhill.
- Republican Senators Cornyn (Tex.) and Kyl (Ariz.) had originally proposed an amendment to make criminals ineligible for either amnesty or U.S. citizenship under the proposed new law. That had been overwhelmingly rejected by the Democrats who then asked Cornyn and Kyl to negotiate a compromise with Kennedy. The two sides agreed–the Republicans reluctantly–that a criminal would now be eligible for amnesty and citizenship if he had committed only one felony or three misdemeanors except that he could commit any number of immigration-related felonies or misdemeanors and still pass muster. This smelly little compromise passed 99-0.
- An amendment from Sen. Johnny Isaakson (R., Ga.) sought to ensure that the reform would be genuinely “comprehensive” and not simply camouflage for amnesty and a guest-worker program. He proposed that the bill’s amnesty and guest-worker provisions would come into effect only after the president had certified that its border security measures were in place and its required detention space (for illegal border-crossers) available. It was defeated 55-40. Logical conclusion: the border security provisions in the bill and the president’s speech last week are camouflage.
- Sen David Vitter (R., La.) proposed an amendment to prevent illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a mere two years from “earning” citizenship–the legislative euphemism for amnesty. His amendment was defeated 66-33.
- Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) proposed an amendment to strip the guest-worker provisions from the bill. By 69 to 28 votes the proposal was “tabled”–i.e., the senators agreed not to bring the proposal to a vote. Tabling is a useful political device. It enables senators to defeat a proposal while claiming later that they never opposed it–and even that they had actually supported it.
- Sen. Cornyn (R. Tex.) returned to the fray with an amendment to ensure that guest-workers could become permanent hires only after both the potential employer and the U.S. Labor Department had certified that no American workers were available to fill the positions. That modest safeguard currently exists for H-1B highly skilled legal immigrants–where it is widely evaded. Still, it was better than nothing, and it passed by the surprisingly narrow margin of 50-48. Hurrah! Not so fast, however . . .
- Sen. Kennedy (D., Mass.) now proposed an amendment to remove the Cornyn safeguard and replace it with a provision that the temporary worker could permanently fill a U.S. job simply by virtue of having been legally hired as a temp for the previous four years. No checking that American workers might be available would be necessary. This passed by 56-43.
- Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) offered an amendment to disallow those immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally (a felony)–as opposed to those who overstayed their visas (a misdemeanor)–from claiming credit with the Social Security Administration for payments made under false names and false social security numbers while they were living and working illegally in the U.S. This was tabled (i.e., covertly defeated) by 50 to 49 votes. Uncle Sam’s accountant, the General Accounting Office, says that the Social Security administration’s estimate of the cost of this giveaway to the Fund is way wrong–but can’t offer an estimate of its own. Nobody knows what this will cost. But since the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 40 per cent of illegals have been in the U.S. for more than five years, you can make your own estimate.
- Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) proposed a simple amendment to make English the official language of the U.S. This would have weakened bilingualism and effectively compelled federal, state and local governments to conduct most of their business in English. It passed 63-34. No one who is up for election soon wants to vote in favor of making the U.S. a bilingual republic. Not so fast again, however . . .
- For Sen. Salazar (D., Colo.) promptly proposed to replace the Inhofe amendment with one that certified English as America’s “common language”–a motherhood-and-apple-pie amendment with no practical or legal effects. That passed 58-39. So 58 Senators who voted for continued official bilingualism can now tell their electorate that they voted against it.
- Senators Kyl and Cornyn came back fighting for the third time with an amendment to prevent “temporary” the 200,000 annual guest-workers turning themselves into permanent ones with a green card, etc. That was an attempt to hold President Bush to his promise in several major speeches that “temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay.” It looked like it would pass, whereupon the White House intervened to urge rejection of the amendment. It was promptly “tabled” by 58 votes to 35. If I were an intemperate Move-On type, I might say something like: “Bush Lied, The Nation Died.” But the U.S. will be harder to kill off than that.
Beneath all these legislative deceptions and contortions, the politics of this bill are not hard to read. It is being pushed by an alliance of Big Business (cheap labor), the Democrats (cheap votes), the immigration lawyers (more business), and the White House (economic illiteracy plus moral preening) against the opposition of most Republicans in both House and Senate–and of most Americans. Yet if this legislation is passed, the Republicans will share the political blame for what the media will call a bi-partisan compromise–and they will suffer at the polls for a bill drawn up by Teddy Kennedy.
But a political party is not a suicide pact. Neither House nor Senate Republicans need follow George W. Bush–a lame lemming if ever there was one–over a cliff. Senate Republicans can mount a filibuster against the bill. And if that fails, House Republicans can refuse to go to conference on it and halt the bill that way.
They would be entirely justified. The net effect of this legislation is that in the next 20 years 66 million immigrants will “enter” the country. Most of them will be either illegals or “temporary” guest-workers who, in return for paying a small fine and modest back taxes assessed by themselves, will get first place in the line for U.S. residency, a green card (worth at least $100,000 on the world market), a social security entitlement of unknown size, and a early path to citizenship in a newly bicultural America.
That sausage is highly inedible. It may be swallowed by the Senate. But the House Republicans could choke swallowing it. If they manage to get it down, however, it is the American people who’ll be poisoned.
—John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. This first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission.