Politics & Policy

The Devil Is in the Details

Are we to disregard the rule of law?

Show me someone who doubts that the immigration bill being railroaded through Congress is amnesty — and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t read the bill.

For months, behind closed doors, a handful of Democratic and Republican staffers, along with a few senators and principals from the administration, have been writing a “comprehensive immigration-reform package.” Until Saturday morning, the legislation has been unavailable to any other senators or staff, let alone the media, policy analysts or the general public.

I am looking at a copy stamped “DRAFT — FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES ONLY” and dated May 18, 2007 11:58 P.M. For the sake of open deliberation and public education, the text has been posted on the Heritage Foundation’s website.

This document is being relied upon by senators and staff as the final language to be debated beginning today, with the expectation of a vote on final passage — without congressional hearings, committee mark-up, fiscal analysis, expert testimony, or public comment — before the end of the week.

This legislation would be the largest reform of immigration policy in 40 years, affecting not only our national security and homeland defense but the fiscal, economic, and social future of the United States for several generations.

Yet the Senate is about to begin a forced-march to debate and vote on legislation that no one — other than a few staffers who wrote it in secret — has read. This is no way to legislate.

The strategy seems to be to hide the legislation for as long as possible, then stage a full-court press to convince the Senate, and the public, that this bill is a good deal.

In Saturday’s Washington Post, Joel Kaplan, deputy White House chief of staff, says the bill contains provisions that “conservatives have wanted for a long time” and those who “know the most about what the bill does are those who have been involved in day in, day out discussions of the drafting of the agreement.” This is a plea for conservatives to blindly endorse a proposal without reading the details.

And, believe me, the devil is in the details. This legislation is long and complicated, with lots of details — and lots of devils. We are pouring through it very closely, but it will take time and effort to discover all of its loopholes and hidden provisions and to comprehend its full implications.

Our Founding Fathers intended the legislature to deliberate and debate the laws they were making on behalf of the American people. The United States Senate is supposedly the most deliberative body in the world. Is that still the case? Will no one object to this disregard for the rule of law?

— Matthew Spalding is director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Matthew Spalding is the associate vice president and dean of educational programs for Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C., where he is the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Chair in Constitutional Studies.

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