- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The recent Senate debate over immigration reform provides a textbook illustration of how not to approach the issue in a reasonable, responsible way: Avoid the messy process of holding committee hearings. Bring together a cabal of lawmakers and staff (“masters of the universe,” as Sen. Jeff Sessions, an opponent of the bill, called them) to negotiate the substance of the bill. Have committee staff cobble together language behind closed doors and make it available at 2 a.m. Saturday just two days before debate, ensuring that senators could not possibly have time to read and understand the bill before debate begins.

Then, if you’re Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, set arbitrary and unreasonable deadlines for Senate passage of a massive bill running hundreds of pages in length and containingnumerous provisions that weakenborder security and public safety. And then, when Republican leaders attempt to meet you more than halfway andconsolidate the number of amendments to be debated from several hundred to 20 or less, pull the bill from the floor and complain to the media that President Bush and the Republicans are to blame.

From what we’ve seen thus far, unless massive public pressure is brought to bear, we are unlikelyto achieve a genuineimmigration reform bill that focuses on securing the border during the final 19 months of the Bush administration. One reason is philosophical: Since thestart of the Bushpresidency, the administration has placed a higher priority on appeasing illegal aliens and their coddlers than on securing our porous border. Enforcement of laws barring employers from hiring illegalswas virtually nonexistent until it became necessary to illustrate that the White House was serious about making a deal on immigration.

The Republican Party is deeply divided onimmigration. The overwhelming majority of House Republicans are opposed to the administration’s approach, but Republican senators split 25-20 in aMay 24 vote in favor of keeping amnesty in the immigration bill. The overwhelming majority of House and Senate Democrats line up squarely in the pro-amnesty, pro-open borders camp, a point illustrated by vote after voteduring the recent Senate debate — during which most of the criticism from Democrats like Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Chris Dodd suggested that the bill was insufficiently generous.

The reality is that a bad bill would have passed the Senate if it hadn’t been for massive protests from Americans who flooded their members with e-mails and telephone calls in opposition. But support for amnesty and open borders hasn’t gone away. Mr. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy want to try again, as do such interest groups as the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of La Raza, which receives funds from billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

Yet the American people have a very different view. Pollster Scott Rasmussen found that just 16percent of Americans thought theSenate bill would achieve what is necessary to fix immigration — that is, to secure the border and curb illegal immigration. Support for Sen. John McCain’s presidential candidacy is falling, and Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida finds his popularity headed south as well in reaction to his leadership role in supporting the failed Senate bill. Republican pollsters are looking at data which show that among Republican voters, approval of the president handling of immigration issues has fallen from 61 percent to 45 percent in recent months (even as approval for his handling of Iraq has gone from 63 percent to 67 percent).Among a broad cross-section of the public, new data suggest that: by a 3-1 margin, voters believe that illegals weaken the economy; by a margin of nearly 6-1, they believe that the government is not doing enough on border security; and by a margin of nearly 3-1, they believe that illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported for being in the United States illegally.

Starting this week, The Washington Times editorial page willbegin to examine in detail proposals to handle the immigration problem with a particular focus on securing the border andending the employment magnet that draws illegal aliens to this country. We will examine some of the most promising ideas — among them border fences, strengthening the border patrol, bolstering state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities, dealing with criminal aliens and coming up with a serious effort to penalize employers that hire illegals. And we will alsocritique some of the false solutions to the problem — everything from mass amnesty to guaranteeing a college education to illegals. The best thing Congress and the administration can do would be to throw the Senate bill in the trash and take a fresh look at ways to make our borders secure.