Congressman Heath Shuler, a freshman Democrat from North Carolina, has introduced a piece of immigration legislation known as the SAVE Act, an enforcement-only bill that would add 8,000 border-patrol agents and mandate that all businesses verify the legal residency of all employees. The Democratic leadership will not allow a vote on it.
Forty-eight other Democratic congressmen have co-sponsored the legislation, and we suspect that is just fine with Nancy Pelosi, who understands that some of her troops come from congressional districts that are not as enlightened as hers. Republicans are trying to find out whether those Democrats are committed to following their voters’ wishes, or are just posturing. They have filed a “discharge petition”: If a majority of House members sign it, the bill will get a vote. The petition has 184 signatures today.
Democrats are coming up with more stalling tactics. The House Judiciary Committee has asked the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the bill’s cost, probably so that it can demand that its sponsors come up with offsetting budget savings or tax increases that will drive support for the bill down. Congressman Charles Rangel, head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has also sent a letter imploring Democrats not to encourage the legislation.
Last week, Shuler said that he believed that John McCain was working behind the scenes to kill the bill. McCain’s campaign denies the charge, and some Republicans argue that Shuler is trying to divert attention from his own party’s hostility to enforcing the law. For McCain to stand in the way of the legislation would be a big mistake: He would be ripping off the band-aid over the party’s scars on immigration.
We sympathize with McCain’s desire to woo Hispanic voters, even though we have often objected to his methods. Republicans should be careful not to overdo their rhetoric. Illegal immigration raises understandable passions. But our advocacy of controls is rooted in a calm assessment of the national interest, not vindictiveness toward the illegal population, and it should be presented as such. A substantial reduction of the net inflow of illegal immigrants is the indispensable first step toward an immigration policy that works for native-born and immigrant American alike.
Senator McCain may disagree with us about what that policy should look like. But he has said, correctly, that the public must see Washington enforcing the law before it will trust it to make any further reforms. He should make the SAVE Act part of his platform — or, at the very least, urge Pelosi to allow a vote.