Politics & Policy

Amnesty Immediate

This Senate immigration bill is no solution to our problems.

It will only take a moment. If Congress passes the current immigration bill being debated in the Senate, President Bush will sign the legislation, and in so doing, offer immediate amnesty to over 12 million illegal immigrants who currently reside in our country. Bill supporters call it “probationary status,” but the effect will be to give law breakers legal status and thus access to Social Security, Medicare, some welfare services, and our court systems. And just like that, the main purpose of this immigration bill will have been realized.

In the meantime, those persuaded by the bill’s window dressing will be forced to wait and hope that the provisions promised by the bill’s authors come to fruition. Indeed, the promises in this bill are plentiful.

We are told the bill will end the practice of chain migration by implementing a merit-based points system. But for this, we will have to wait eight years and hope that no future politicians change the law under immense pressure from left-wing interest groups.

We are told the bill will provide for a workable and truly temporary guest-worker system that will benefit our economy. But already, the Senate has gutted this provision by slashing the program by two thirds.

We are told the bill will encourage legal immigration and assimilation into the traditional American melting pot. But this belies the fact that granting amnesty is the biggest possible incentive for future illegal immigration. Additionally, this bill does not make English the official language and does not require amnesty recipients to demonstrate any serious English comprehension for 12 years.

Most importantly, we are promised real border security with the construction of a partial fence along our southern border, thousands of new border-patrol agents, and a new worker-verification system. This, we are told, is the number one priority of the bill.

As proof of the promise, the authors say no other provision contained in this bill (except the immediate probationary legal status) will be implemented until the border is secure. And how will we know the border is secure? The president — the bill’s chief proponent — will receive a letter from one of his top officials certifying that it is so.

If history is a guide, these promises will be proved empty.

Remember, we have been down this road before. In 1986 the government granted amnesty to over two million illegal immigrants and promised border security in return. All we got then was increased incentives for illegal immigration and a continually porous border.

We can and must do better. We owe it to the American people to responsibly reform this broken system based on principle, not politics.

First, we must prove to Americans that national security is our top priority. We should amend the bill to give the triggers teeth by forcing the administration to prove in public hearings that our borders have indeed been secured and Congress should have to vote to approve the certification. We must also close various loopholes that give rejected Z-visa applicants judicial review and that grant amnesty to terrorists, gang members, and sex offenders.

Second, we must reject amnesty. Americans are pro-immigrant and believe in legal immigration. They want people to come here, respect our laws, embrace our values, and become American citizens. But we must reject amnesty if we ever expect that to happen. And that is why eliminating the amnesty provisions in this bill is the most compassionate, pro-immigrant thing we can do. Illegal immigrants should have to return home and get right with the law before being granted legal status.

Third, immigration reform must be a net plus for America, not a net loss. A merit-based point system is a good start but only if it is enacted in a timely manner. Our nation is already facing a fiscal crisis, and this bill will only worsen the situation by giving illegal immigrants access to government funded health benefits. In fairness to American taxpayers, Z-visa holders should have to maintain a minimum level of private health insurance to keep them off public assistance (Medicare and Medicaid) and out of emergency rooms.

Fourth, we must strengthen assimilation into the American melting pot. Congress must have the courage to declare English as our official language if we are going to be serious about assimilation. Also, Z-visa applicants should have to apply in English and show at least some level of English comprehension.

I have offered amendments to this bill in the Senate in an effort to fix it. I offered an amendment last week to strike the Z-visa provision. Unfortunately, a majority of the Senate voted against it in favor of amnesty. Next week, I will work with my colleagues to offer more amendments in the hope that we can salvage this bill.

Congress still has an opportunity to improve this bill, but we cannot pass a bill based on political promises alone. Americans are tired of their government offering only empty rhetoric. It is time we offered real solutions to this very real problem.

Jim DeMint is a Republican United States senator from South Carolina.

Jim DeMint is the chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute.

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