Politics & Policy

Legislative Travesty

The Senate immigration bill is dishonest, unworkable, and radical.

The Senate bill pretends to do what it doesn’t truly intend to do–tighten up enforcement–while really doing what its supporters hope no one will notice: conducting a vast social experiment that involves extending the benefits of the welfare state of the world’s richest country to tens of millions of poor, uneducated inhabitants of Latin America, through the expedient of importing them into America.

The Senate bill–which the House, thankfully, is resisting–requires that a system for employers to verify the legal status of employees be created in 18 months. That sounds admirably rapid. Only it’s a fantasy. The people who will be charged with meeting the deadline at the Department of Homeland Security told the Senate prior to passage that it couldn’t possibly happen. The Senate went ahead anyway because what it values most is the facsimile of enforcement.

The 18-month requirement will surely be another in a long line of blown enforcement deadlines. The real intent of the senators is clear from their rejection of the idea of waiting to see enforcement measures actually implemented before doing anything else. Local law enforcement is effectively prohibited from enforcing immigration laws, and an illegal alien can’t be deported so long as he has a claim to stay that is being adjudicated. This can mean an indefinite stay; claims are still being adjudicated from the 1986 amnesty.

The Senate’s attitude is, to paraphrase St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, give us immigration enforcement–just not yet.”

The bill’s supporters hate the word “amnesty,” but it is apt when illegals get a green card and a path to citizenship. To avoid simply waving everyone into the U.S., the bill creates three tiers of illegals, with those here more than five years first in line for legalization. But the immigration bureaucracy can’t process the work it has now, let alone sort through who got here when based on unsecure documents like utility bills.

Once illegals become citizens, they become expensive. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation says that the Senate bill will be the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years. College-educated immigrants are a net fiscal benefit to the U.S., but high-school graduates are problematic, and high-school dropouts are an outright fiscal disaster. About half of illegal aliens are dropouts, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate for illegals is roughly 45 percent.

This is a population primed for welfare. Supporters of amnesty argue that illegal aliens aren’t a drag because they hold jobs. But our welfare and tax systems are geared to providing support to exactly such low-income workers. Rector points out that a family making less than $40,000 a year essentially pays nothing in income taxes, thanks to various tax benefits. The median income for high-school dropouts in the U.S. is $22,000 a year for men and $12,000 a year for women.

So, the new citizens created by the Senate bill will disproportionately be on the receiving end of all the means-tested welfare programs that go to people at the bottom of the income scale, at a cost of $580 billion a year. The Senate bill will legalize 10 million immigrants, allow them to bring their parents, and import millions more low-skilled workers through a guest-worker program. Rector estimates that the annual cost of the Senate bill–which he says will bring an astonishing 60 million people into the U.S. over 20 years–will eventually reach $50 billion a year.

That’s the final indignity. Not only will your lawmakers engage in an unconvincing pretense of enforcement as they pass their amnesty–you have to pay for the privilege.

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

(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate

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