The fate of the bipartisan immigration deal now rests with a handful of senators who say that they are against it, but are inclined to vote to let the Senate take it up again. Do not be fooled. Any senator who votes to bring this legislation back to the Senate floor tomorrow is supporting it, and any contrary vote he casts later will be a scam designed to fool gullible voters.
The bill is unpopular, but powerful forces — businesses, journalists, officials in both parties, and racial pressure groups — are determined to push it through. They do not mind if a few senators vote against the bill for the cameras while greasing the track for it when it counts.
Senators who claim to oppose the bill say that they want a new debate on it so that they can improve it. But the broad outlines of this bill are set in stone. It provides amnesty for the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants already here and invites an ongoing stream of “temporary” low-skilled workers. In exchange, proponents of tighter borders get the restrictions in current law, plus an empty promise that this time they will be enforced. The amendment process has been carefully choreographed so that these basic features of the deal will not be changed. Amnesty now, enforcement later: That is what the senators are going to be voting on, and it is not going to change. Anyone who objects to that formula needs to kill this bill and start over.
For senators who are professing to wait to see what the final bill looks like before taking a position, the wait is over. The final bill will represent the will of its drafters and defy the expressed will of their constituents. The only way to prevent that inevitable finale, is to bring the curtain down now.
Over the weekend, Senator Ted Kennedy made a prediction about his bill that pointedly shared the political blame for it: “I believe we will pass the bill, and I think we have good support among the Republican party.” Tomorrow, senators ought to prove him wrong.