Politics

We’ll have to pass amnesty to find out what’s in it

We'll have to pass amnesty to find out what's in it

The Senate has heard America’s demands for improved border security… and used them as an excuse to hastily rewrite the Gang of Eight immigration bill, stuffing it with untold loopholes and nuggets of pork, before setting up a deliriously hasty vote on Monday.  That’s right, folks: we’re going to get another vote on a thousand-page bill no one has read in its entirety.  As then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously remarked about ObamaCare, we’ll have to pass amnesty to find out what’s in it.

Even Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standardwho is favorably disposed toward comprehensive immigration reform, called for Republicans to slam on the brakes before rushing another ObamaCare-style disaster through a quickie vote.  Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Kristol noted that this isn’t about adding the 200-page border security amendment authored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) to the existing 1,200-page bill senators have (presumably) been given enough time to read.  Instead, the Corker-Hoeven amendment was ground into legislative powder and sprinkled throughout the bill, altering it in countless ways that no one really understands yet.  Every page of the bill is now like one of those everything-flavored jelly beans from “Harry Potter”: we have to swallow it to discover what it tastes like.

Shoving this hot mess through the Senate without allowing at least a week or two for senators and their constituents to study the revised text is madness… and it seems like a violation of Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) promise that “I don’t want to be part of a process that comes up with some bill in secret and brings it to the floor and gives people a ‘take it or leave it.’”  There’s nothing open or transparent about shoving a mystery bill down America’s throat without time to study or debate it.

Although the revised bill has only been available for public review since Friday, a few interesting little surprises have already been discovered.  The Heritage Foundation spotted “several sweetheart deals” buried in the new text, including “special treatment for Alaskan seafood processing and $1.5 billion for youth job training.”  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) slipped a juicy bit of pork for his Vegas gambling connections into the security portion of the bill, by indefinitely extending a $100 million program to promote tourism, which was slated to end in 2015.  What the hell does that have to do with border security – or immigration reform, for that matter?  This isn’t about statesmen crafting legislation with a careful eye towards its profound impact on our national welfare; it’s thieves in the night scurrying away with bags of taxpayer swag before anyone has a chance to call the cops.

As for the actual border security enhancements in the Corker-Hoeven amendment, the Heritage Foundation notes that they “sound great on paper, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that, just like in the language of the bill, none of the border security measures in the Corker–Hoeven amendment have to be in place until illegal immigrants with registered provisional immigrant status are to receive green cards 10 years down the road.”

So we’ve still got amnesty now, border security whenever.  We’re still talking about these silly, easily-disarmed “triggers” instead of requiring ironclad improvements first - which should encompass not just the physical security of the southern border, but internal security as well.  The Corker-Hoeven amendment has very little to say on that subject, beyond a vague promise to get more serious about tracking visa overstays.  Now there’s a problem whose persistence makes a mockery of the whole “secure borders” posture.  The same government that resists all efforts to clean up its voter registrations is going to use advanced (but not state-of-the-art) identification systems to crack down on a problem that any respectable 18th-century bureaucracy could have handled – namely, people who don’t depart the country on schedule when the visas they obtained from the U.S. government run out?

There’s some significant resistance to the modified Senate bill, including a call from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ union to vote the bill down, because it’s too lax on internal security, allows too many gang members and other criminal aliens onto the “pathway to citizenship,” and leaves too many important issues at the discretion of bureaucrats.

Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Senator Corker expressed hope that the House of Representatives would correct the interior-security problems with the Senate bill.  (What statesmanship!  Rush a lousy bill that nobody’s had a chance to read through the Senate, then cross your fingers that House Republicans will fix it!)  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) tore into the bill on the same show, saying he opposed it because “it doesn’t do what it says… this bill grants amnesty first, and a mere promise of enforcement in the future.”

Sessions noted that the promised 20,000 new Border Patrol agents in the Corker-Hoeven amendment “are not required until 2021,” and “no money is being appropriated for that… this is merely an authorization,” while its promise to build more border fencing is actually weaker than the existing law Congress passed years ago, then largely ignored.  As Sessions pointed out, the construction of more border fence is comically left entirely at the discretion of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who has loudly stated that she has no interest in building any more fences.

What makes all of this extra-insulting is that it assumes the American people don’t remember anything about previous amnesty deals, or even the Obama Administration’s proclivity for abusing any discretionary authority Congress grants it.  Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese made this point in a recent letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journalnoting that the 1986 amnesty bill was filled with the same smoke and mirrors we’re seeing today, and we all know how those promises of a carefully monitored pathway to citizenship plus enhanced border security worked out:

The 1986 act didn’t turn illegal immigrants into citizens on the spot. It granted temporary resident status only to those who could prove they had resided continuously in America for five years. After 18 months, their status could be upgraded to permanent residency, and only after another five years could they become U.S. citizens.

But advancement to citizenship was not automatic. Immigrants had to satisfy various requirements along the way. They had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible.

Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same “penalties and hurdles” set forth by the Gang of Eight. Today they call it a “roadmap to citizenship.” Ronald Reagan called it “amnesty.”

The ’86 reform bill also had supposedly “rigorous” border security and immigration law enforcement provisions. So how did that pan out? On the day Reagan signed “comprehensive” reform into law, only one thing changed: Millions of unlawful immigrants gained “legal” status. The promised crackdowns on security and enforcement never happened. Only amnesty prevailed.

We’re still allowing Congress to behave as if border security is a bargaining chip, or more accurately a hand-written I.O.U. they can toss into the ante during a high-stakes game of citizenship poker.  We know they don’t want to make good on that promise, thanks to the combined distaste of those who don’t want to perform a duty with little political payoff, and those who very much want the flow of illegal immigrants to continue.  There’s nothing particularly complicated about the notion of upgrading both internal and external security – this is supposed to be “comprehensive” immigration reform, isn’t it? – and achieving a dramatic reduction in the flow of illegals before taking the first steps toward extraordinary legalization for those who remain.  (There has always been a “pathway to citizenship” available for those who comply with America’s immigration laws.)

But if we got that combination of enhanced internal and external security first, there would be real up-front costs to pay.  Increasing the deficit is problematic, and few in Congress wish to divert money away from politically profitable vote-buying programs to fund the thankless task of border security.  Furthermore, when the time for legalization finally arrived, there wouldn’t be 12 million illegals to grant amnesty any more – their numbers would have been reduced through more aggressive enforcement of existing  law.  And that would be a problem for some of those pushing this mutated Gang of Eight bill.  They’re also really looking forward to passing something that House Republicans can be forced to shoot down, creating a great opportunity for racial demagoguery going into the 2014 midterm elections.

A sloppy bill passed by blindfolded Senators is just the thing to fulfill all those political-class ambitions, but there’s no reason the rest of America should go along with it.

Update: Look what else just popped out of the revised immigration bill: a $1.5 billion “stimulus” boondoggle, based on one of President Obama’s failed big-spending “jobs bills.”  It got tossed in as a sop to avowed socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Doubtless many more delightful surprises that have nothing to do with “border security” await us as we chew on those Corker-Hoeven everything-flavored magic jelly beans.

Update: Guess who else gets a pork-fried handout in the revised immigration bill?  Hint: they’re incredibly rich, hyper-liberal, are known for the kind of business practices they claim to hate.

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