Immigration Reform

As of today, the Senate has failed in its attempt to pass the Immigration Bill. This Bill was supported by President Bush and many Senators from both sides. However, voters across the country mounted a grass-roots movement to defeat this bill by contacting their Senators to express opposition. Apparently the volume of phone calls, fax messages and e-mails was sufficient to cause enough Senators to cast their vote so as to more clearly reflect their constituents wishes. This is Democracy in action.

Technically the Immigration Bill was not defeated, but rather a vote to end debate was defeated by a vote of 53 to 46. This movement was sufficient to kill the Bill by insuring its withdrawal from further consideration. Support for this bill in the Senate was mostly Democratic, but as indicated by this quote from a AP article by Charles Babington titled Senate Blocks Immigration Bill, the vote was not strictly along party lines.

“Voting to allow the bill to proceed by ending debate were 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and independent Joe Lieberman, Conn. Voting to block the bill by not limiting debate were 37 Republicans, 15 Democrats and independent Bernard Sanders, Vt. Tim Johnson, D-S.C., did not vote.”

The loudest complaint about this bill was the “Amnesty” which the bill would have granted to the estimated 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants already in this country. But on closer examination, “Amnesty” was only the general umbrella used to describe many very specific perceived problems with the bill. More specific objections were registered against the large and complex 500+ page cobbled together single piece of Legislative nightmare.

Supporters claimed this comprehensive piece of Legislation attempted to solve all the problems with one bill. Many opponents thought a better approach would be to consider several smaller bills to accomplish this task. The detractors, with much justification, feel that Our Government could not possibly effectively enforce all the provisions of this important Legislation. We do have a Government, after all, which has a hard time chewing gum and walking at the same time.

It is almost universally accepted that Immigration Reform is badly needed. Now that this bill has lost support, where do we go from here? Personally I would prefer a series of smaller bills starting with securing our Borders (Both of them) to accomplish the needed Comprehensive Legislation. What we should do was expressed very well by Pete Du Pont in the on-line version of the Wall Street Opinion Journal. Former Delaware Governor Du Pont’s article is titled appropriately – Security First. Governor Du Pont’s plan involves 5 steps.

First, secure the Mexican border so that America is closed to illegal immigration. Controlling our borders is essential to our national security. The additional 600 miles of border fencing authorized by the 2006 law must immediately be built; and we must add surveillance technology and more border security agents to our entire southern border. President Bush has agreed to add an upfront $4.4 billion to the bill to strengthen border security, enforce our immigration law, and prosecute employers who hire illegal workers–a good first step to solve our illegal immigration problems.

Second, make sure the bill contains the provisions of the Isakson Rule (proposed by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R., Ga.) that no other immigration reform programs can be implemented until the border is secure.

Third, once the border has been secured, require tamper-proof ID cards of all immigrants. Today there are no such cards, and verifiable identification is essential to both immigration policy and national security. We must know who is entering our country and what their background is.

Fourth, identify the skills required for the jobs immigrants need to fill, so that immigration policy will reflect America’s economic needs. The Senate bill contains a merit-based system for evaluating immigration applicants. It encourages higher education, those skilled in specialist occupations (including scientists, engineers and technicians) and people who have previously worked in America and speak English. Working skills should be the focus of our immigration policy, so we must move from the current “chain migration” policy which gives preference to extended families of current immigrants–like sisters, cousins, uncles, and grandparents, to one that admits the skilled working people we need. Sen. Barack Obama tried to sunset this merit program after five years, and fortunately his attempt was defeated.

Fifth, get rid of the existing “visa lottery” that randomly selects 50,000 immigrants from the application list each year. An effective immigration policy isn’t based on gambling.

This approach makes sense and is very doable in small parts and protects us from further illegal immigration and just a important, secures our borders against foreign Terrorists. One problem still not addressed is what do we do with the illegals already here! Governor Du Pont has that answer too.

Sen. Ted Kennedy proposes allowing them to stay indefinitely and pursue citizenship. They would have to apply for a Z visa (temporary legal status) by admitting they have broken the law, pay an initial $1,000 fine, and submit to a background check. They would still not then eligible for welfare benefits or food stamps, and if they wanted a green card and permanent legal status, they would have to pay an additional $4,000 fine, learn English, and then return to their home countries to file for it.

This is a plan I believe we could all live with and is fair and just. Now the biggest problem will be getting Congress to pass and President Bush to sign it into Law. Enactment may be the real issue, due to the serious Political Acrimony following this last attempt.

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