The Corner


A Compromise Immigration Bill, and a Compromise on the Compromise

Abbott and Costello (via Wikimedia Commons)

In Pardon My Sarong, Abbott and Costello are drifting on a boat becalmed in the South Seas with only two beans each left to eat. Abbott (the taller, smarter one) eats his two before Costello starts, and then insists, because they’re 50/50 partners, that Costello give him one of his remaining beans: “You’ve got two beans and I haven’t got any!” Costello complies, then cuts his remaining bean in half to eat it. Abbott again insists, “You’ve got two halves and I haven’t got any!” Costello again complies, and then finally gets to eat one half of his original two beans.

The two immigration bills the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on next week should be named Abbott and Costello. The first is limited but nourishing, and the second is what remains after removing much of value.

The first bill (Abbott, if you’re not tired of the metaphor yet) is the Goodlatte bill. It would codify Obama’s lawless DACA amnesty, protecting the 700,000 illegal aliens who signed up for it from the likely Supreme Court ruling permitting the termination of the program. To limit the magnetic effect of such an amnesty to attract new illegal immigration, the bill includes enforcement measures, most notably full funding for a wall and mandatory E-Verify. And to limit the downstream legal immigration consequences, the Goodlatte bill would discontinue the visa lottery and the chain-migration categories and allow parents of adult U.S. citizens to move here only on non-immigrant visas (i.e., those that do not lead to citizenship) and require proof of paid-up health insurance.

The bill isn’t perfect — it reallocates some of the family visas to the employment-based immigration categories, which are already too big, without the needed streamlining of that system that the Raise Act calls for. What’s more, it establishes a huge new agricultural guestworker program, expanding it to cover workers in meatpacking and dairy (a bribe to farm interests to buy their silence on E-Verify).

Unfortunately, the Goodlatte bill is unlikely to pass, since every Democrat will vote against it, joined by the immigration-expansionist Republicans. That’s where the Costello bill comes in. It hasn’t been written yet, but a draft has been leaked. It represents an attempt by the House leadership and the White House to come up with a compromise on the Goodlatte compromise, one that the liberal Republicans behind the discharge petition gambit can support.

The leadership bill cuts out whole portions of the Goodlatte compromise: It doesn’t mandate E-Verify, it leaves more of the chain-migration categories in place, and does nothing to change the rules for immigration of parents. What’s more, it would expand the amnesty beyond those who currently have DACA, and could be even larger than the 1.8 million cited by the White House earlier this year.

Not only does the leadership bill cut out important parts of the Goodlatte bill, it includes new provisions inserted at the behest of tech lobbyists: It reallocates more of the family green cards to the already bloated employment categories, it ends the per-country cap (meaning Indian tech workers and their relatives will come to dominate the legal immigration flow, with people from other countries effectively crowded out), and most alarmingly, it expands the amnesty to include children of long-term foreign tech workers here on temporary visas, a number I’ve heard quoted as 75,000, though there’s no way to know.

This isn’t to say there’s nothing of value in the bill — it ends the visa lottery and two of the chain-migration categories, fully funds the wall, and plugs important loopholes driving the crisis at the border. The question is whether this remaining half a bean is enough to compensate for all the bad parts of the bill.

One thing that would make it a lot more palatable would be restoring the Goodlatte provision to change the way parents of adult citizens can immigrate, so they could come to babysit their grandchildren but never vote or sign up for Medicare. This is morally important, too, because without that change, the parents of the DACA/Dreamers, who most certainly knew what they were doing when they brought their kids here illegally, would end up benefitting from an amnesty based on the idea that Dreamers came here “through no fault of their own.”

I’m reserving judgment until there’s actual legislative language, but as it stands now, it’s not looking good.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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