Politics & Policy

Touchback Fraud

Supporters of “comprehensive immigration reform,” also known as amnesty, are not out of tricks yet. The next tactic we can look forward to is an attempt to win over some conservative senators by making “improvements” to the bill that turn out, on inspection, to be meaningless. Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to offer her colleagues welcome cover by proposing an amendment that she claims would remove amnesty from the bill.

The bill grants almost all illegal immigrants “probationary legal status” immediately. When various enforcement “triggers” are met, the government will start issuing “Z visas,” and the illegal immigrants are supposed to apply for those visas within the next six months. If they want to become “legal permanent residents” on a path to citizenship, however, they will have to return briefly to their home countries (or a foreign consulate, if the Secretary of State allows it) to file their applications.

The bill’s “touchback” requirement appears aimed at making it appear that the newly-legalized aliens are applying for permanent status from their home countries “just like other applicants.” This exercise in window-dressing fails to disguise the fact that under the bill illegal aliens enjoy their own privileged pathway to citizenship, don’t compete with applicants who have complied with U.S. immigration laws, and come right back into the United States after applying abroad.

Senator Hutchison says that this “touchback” before permanent residency amounts to a grant of “amnesty,” and therefore opposes it. She thinks that the illegal immigrants should have to leave the country in order to file additional paperwork before they can get the Z visas.

But this is a distinction without a difference. Whether or not she is successful in amending the bill, illegal immigrants will get probationary legal status, and thus the ability to work in this country without being subject to deportation, immediately. That’s amnesty: The law-breakers get the object of their crime. An immigrant who overstayed his visa can keep working under the Hutchison plan. Another immigrant who obeyed the law and left when his visa expired, on the other hand, will be out of luck.

Indeed, Hutchison’s idea might well make the bill worse. Under her proposal, illegal immigrants will have gotten probationary legal status. Both the immigrant lobby and the low-wage employer lobby will be relatively happy. Neither group will have any interest in seeing enforcement measures trip the “trigger,” in which case the government would start issuing Z visas and the workers would have to leave temporarily or lose their probationary status.

Senator Hutchison believes that the amnesty bill would be improved with her “touchback” gimmick. Nobody else should.

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