Politics & Policy

The Virtue of Inaction

The Senate is scheduled to begin its consideration of immigration “reform” tomorrow. With luck, it will also end its consideration tomorrow.

For months now, administration officials have been meeting behind closed doors with a group of senators to hatch a “compromise” immigration bill. In an attempt to bring matters to a head, Senate majority leader Harry Reid set this Wednesday as the deadline to conclude negotiations with the White House, after which he would bring to the floor the amnesty bill that was passed last year by the Senate (but rejected by the House). Since this would bypass the normal committee process, a “cloture” motion is required even to consider the bill, and can be defeated by 41 votes. That vote is scheduled for Wednesday, and many Republicans who voted for the bill last year have pledged to oppose it now — some in order to buy time for further negotiations with the White House, others because they have been stung by public opposition to its amnesty provisions.

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s vote, the Senate immigration debate has been based on false premises. First among them is the idea that the negotiations will produce a meaningful compromise. That’s hardly the right word when everyone sat down at the table taking it for granted that illegal aliens would be legalized and immigration levels would rise. It’s true that some conservatives joined the talks hoping to make the best they could of a bad political situation by pushing for tougher enforcement measures. It was because of their efforts that, in March, the White House leaked discussion points which included limiting family chain migration by redirecting visas toward skilled workers, requiring temporary foreign workers to leave the country for six months every two years, and imposing much larger fines than previously proposed on illegal aliens seeking permanent residency (and thus a path to citizenship). If these things are included in the “compromise” bill, it will be improved from last year’s version — but the improvement will not represent a significant compromise with conservatives on immigration policy, and will not be enough to make an amnesty palatable.

Another false premise is that the various components of “comprehensive immigration reform” must go together. The president expressed this view most recently in last weekend’s radio address: “We must address all elements of this problem together, or none of them will be solved at all.” Why? There is no reason not to pass enhanced enforcement measures now and turn to the status of remaining illegal aliens later. Certainly they’re not all going back, even under the most optimistic scenarios of “attrition through enforcement.”

Finally, there is almost a panic on Capitol Hill about the “need” to pass some kind of bill this year. Again we ask: Why? Sure, it would be best to proceed on those areas where there is already broad consensus, especially with regard to improved enforcement. But if, as a political matter, such measures cannot be separated from the objectionable ones, then it would be better instead to focus on enforcing the laws already in place.

After all, the trends seem to be moving in the right direction. The very modest enforcement efforts that the White House has permitted over the past year seem to be bearing some fruit: They have reduced border crossings and given illegals reason to doubt how long they can stay. Also, thousands of businesses have signed up for the federal government’s voluntary online-verification system to help determine the identities of new hires, making the employment of illegals less likely. Finally, state and local governments are stepping up to help do the job Washington has refused to do. Oklahoma has passed immigration-control legislation, as has the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch.

This country does not need an amnesty. Still less does it need an increase in immigration levels. Better no bill at all than a bad one.

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