Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Immigration Dilemma

If she supports English requirements, this immigration bill isn't for her.

Pretend you are Hillary Clinton. You are well aware that amnesty for 12 million or more illegal aliens would cement your party in power for the foreseeable future.

These millions of amnesty recipients and their relatives might even become the shock troops of socialism in America. You picture Argentine union members marching behind Evita Peron. You smile.

Then you frown. You’re running for president of the entire United States, after all, not chairman of the Beverly Hills Civic Association. You are well aware that most people, including many Hispanics, loath the idea of amnesty and support official English.

This is the reason you’ve been talking tough on these subjects in places like Council Bluffs, Iowa:

It’s simply impractical to find and deport the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants here, she said. Instead, there should be a way to have them registered, but they must also pay fines and learn English.

But now you have read all 326 pages of the new Senate amnesty/guest-worker bill. It is heavy on the rights of illegal immigrants and light on their obligations, if any, to America.

You look at Section 702’s English provisions again and wonder if they will fool anyone:

Section 702 Declaration of English

(a) English is the common language of the United States.

(b) Preserving and Enhancing the Role of the English Language. The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the language of the United States of America. Nothing herein shall diminish or expand any existing rights under the laws of the United States relative to services or materials provided by the Government of the United States in any language other than English.

(c) Definition: For the purposes of this section, law is defined as including provisions of the United States Constitution, the United States Code, controlling judicial decisions, regulations, and Presidential Executive Orders.

Section 702 claims to protect English but actually mandates multilingualism. A more concise version would read, “English is OK unless the government decides otherwise.” And the government has often decided otherwise.

You are also well aware that, thanks to your husband’s Executive Order 13166, the only time anyone can legally be required to demonstrate even a modest knowledge of America’s national language is during his one-time citizenship test. Furthermore, E.O. 13166 and its accompanying regulations require all recipients of federal funds to provide its services in whatever language a person may request (even Klingon, it would seem), and at no cost.

You hope no one notices this immigration bill would codify E.O. 13166 in far more permanent legislation. But you remember that your colleague Senator Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) offered an amendment to last year’s immigration bill to repeal E.O. 13166. The Inhofe amendment passed, 63 to 34. (A week later, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana officially asked the Senate to change her vote on the Inhofe amendment from “yes” to “no.”) You realize that Senate Republicans are likely to raise the E.O. 13166 issue again.

There is yet another problem with the amnesty/guest-worker bill: You’ve been giving speeches suggesting that anyone who gets amnesty must first learn English. The draft Senate bill requires no such thing.

The 12 million or more illegal aliens who are to be given the immediate gift of amnesty thanks to the new Z visa would be expected, sometime during the next four years, merely to “demonstrate an attempt to gain an understanding of the English language.”

This “attempt” requires either taking the federal naturalization test, a test that a Washington Post editorial recently commended for its national pass rate of 84 percent, or enrolling in an English class, or simply being on a waiting list for an English class.

The waiting-list exception will really annoy the electorate, considering how easy it is to get into an English class: church-sponsored English classes are free and gladly take all comers, while enrolling in a Berlitz or community college English class would cost only a small portion of the $20 billion remitted to Mexico in 2006.

The Senate amnesty bill does ask that, after eight long years in the Z-visa program, illegal immigrants pass the naturalization test — after no more than three tries. If too many people should fail, there is always the 1996 Citizenship USA solution of dumbing down the test. Or allowing people take it in Spanish, thanks to E.O. 13166.

Even worse for your image as a pro-English stalwart, the Senate’s new amnesty/guest-worker bill would require the federal government to beg illegal aliens, in at least five languages, to accept amnesty:

q) Dissemination of Information on Z Program … The Secretary shall disseminate information to employers and labor unions to advise them of the rights and protections available to them and to workers who file applications under this section. Such information shall be broadly disseminated, in no fewer than the top five principal languages, as determined by the Secretary in his discretion, spoken by aliens who would qualify for classification under this section, including to television, radio, and print media to which such aliens would have access.

You understand the strategy behind forcing the Republicans to vote again and again on immigration: the issue badly divides their base and already hurt their candidates in 2006. A White House signing ceremony, with Ted Kennedy and John McCain flanking a grinning President Bush, means the Democrat’s 2008 presidential nominee might as well start picking new drapes for the Oval Office. You begin to hum “Hail to the Chief.”

But then you hear that Senator Robert Menendez (D., N. J.) denounced the bill in both English and Spanish, and you are reminded that your party isn’t entirely united on immigration issues either. Worse, you may well face amendments from your own side that won’t be too popular in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Well, it’s time to make another speech about tough but fair immigration reform.

– Jim Boulet Jr. is executive director of English First.

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