Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The best immigration bill that can pass (this) Congress

On Tuesday in Texas, John McCain spoke again of his comprehensive immigration reform bill:

"I think it's a matter of national security," McCain said, "and to do nothing — to leave the status quo — would be an abrogation of our responsibilities to the American people."

McCain, speaking amid a series of fundraisers in Houston, added, "If they've got another proposal that will pass the Congress of the United States, then let's hear that."

Let's detour to Monday in Oklahoma, where McCain expanded on the national security theme:

"We have 12 million people. We don't know where they are or what they're doing," McCain said to reporters after speaking to members of the Oklahoma House. "We've got to secure our borders."

McCain said he met with Oklahoma lawmakers who supported sweeping state immigration legislation that Gov. Brad Henry signed into law on May 8. Among other things, the measure would deny most public benefits to illegal aliens, target employers who hire illegal aliens and provide protections to citizens and legal immigrants who lose their jobs to illegal immigrants.

"They passed that legislation because they were frustrated, understandably. The federal government did not carry out its responsibilities," McCain said.

He said border control is a federal responsibility. "That means fences, that means walls," McCain said.

If our national security is at stake (and it is), then that's what ought to be fixed first and foremost, before anyone worries about "normalizing" illegal aliens. McCain's grand compromise pretends to put border security -- "fences and walls," along with electronic employment eligibility verification and other measures -- ahead of normalization by making the vaunted Z-visa contingent on the "trigger" of implementation of these security measures.

However, between the time the bill becomes law and the time the trigger measures are in place, illegal aliens will have a provisional authorization to work and travel -- so who needs a Z-visa? Moreover, the provisional status becomes valid if a background check doesn't show up anything unusual -- by the end of the next business day. Doesn't allow for much time to turn up anything on the applicant, does it? Of course, the more extensive background check that follows the "instant read" will be more reliable and no doubt won't take too much longer to complete, right?

`(1) IN GENERAL- An alien who files an application under subsection (a)(1)(A) for adjustment of status, including a spouse or child who files for adjustment of status under subsection (b)--

`(A) shall be granted employment authorization pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status;

`(B) shall be granted permission to travel abroad pursuant to regulation pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status;

`(C) shall not be detained, determined inadmissible or deportable, or removed pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status, unless the alien commits an act which renders the alien ineligible for such adjustment of status; and

`(D) shall not be considered an unauthorized alien as defined in section 274A(i) until such time as employment authorization under subparagraph (A) is denied.

All of which applies, of course, only to those aliens who come forward to apply. What of those who don't meet the requirements for application, or who have good reasons -- say, a criminal background or terrorist connections -- not to apply? There seems to be no provision in this bill for those folks.

McCain is right that allowing the status quo to continue is an abrogation of Congress's duties. He is also right that this bill is probably the best that can pass the current Congress. But what he fails to see is that the appropriate action is not to pass this bill, but to change the composition of Congress to get one that can pass a real border security bill on its own merits.

If Senators like Ted Kennedy are willing to hold border security hostage as a bargaining chip to get benefits for illegal aliens, they should be required to make that strategy clear to the American electorate. Not all of them would get turfed out in 2008, but it's likely enough of them would that we might finally get a Congress able and willing to implement border security. Then, and only then, should we deal with the question of absorption of the most anodyne of the illegal aliens currently in the US -- as well as the identification and disposition of all of the other illegal aliens currently here.

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