Border betrayal

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There is no nice way to describe what happened yesterday in the Senate, which failed the American people on the most critical border-security vote that has taken place in the 110th Congress.

After a furious press from a president with some of the lowest popularity ratings in modern times, the Senate, which just 19 days earlier had voted decisively against shutting off debate, reversed itself and voted 64-35 to resurrect the illegal-alien amnesty bill — along with a set of amendments agreed to by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican supporters of the bill to give senators plenty of political cover: They can vote for a bill replete with provisions that undermine our defenses against criminal and terrorist aliens and set the stage for an explosion of the welfare state and massive tax increases in the decades ahead, while approving a couple of amendments in order to give senators political cover.

These amendments will either be defeated on the Senate floor (or stripped from the bill in conference), but amnesty advocates from both parties hope they will fool at least some of their constituents into thinking that they are really “tough” on border security and that they are really tried hard to make substantive improvements to the bill.

Yesterday, the Senate began debate on a series of amendments to the legislation. Some come from Democrats intent on making the bill more generous, which is not surprising. Other amendments, however, are designed as fig leafs to enable Republicans to pass a bill that is palatable to Big Business, Big Labor and the National Council of La Raza. As to the rest us, the spin is that they improved the bill, or that they really tried to make it better but just couldn’t muster enough votes. In the latter category is an amendment crafted by Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Mel Martinez of Florida and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. The amendment puts together $4.4 billion for border enforcement, creates a tracking system for guest workers and permanently bars workers who overstay their visas from returning. On Monday, the three senators added a provision that required illegals to return to their home countries to apply for their “provisional” Z visas.

In many ways, this amendment epitomizes why the American public trusts neither Congress nor the Bush administration to broker a serious deal on border security. As Sen. Jim DeMint points out, nearly all the security provisions in the immigration bill mirror existing laws that aren’t enforced (except when Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff turns on his public relations machine.) And if anyone seriously believes that illegal aliens in any numbers will be forced to return to their home countries to apply for visas, we’ll sell them the Brooklyn Bridge. Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, let the cat out of the bag the other day, when he dismissed the idea as “putting people through punitive steps” for “no good reason.” And such fig-leaf amendments do nothing to change the crux of the problem with this bill that we have repeatedly documented on this page: The provisions are like a magnet for undesirables in general, and terrorists and criminals in particular.

In the end, the following 20 senators who voted against cloture on June 7 reversed themselves yesterday and voted for the illegal-alien amnesty bill: Robert Bennett, Utah Republican; Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat; Kit Bond, Missouri Republican; Barbara Boxer, California Democrat; Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican; Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican; Susan Collins, Maine Republican; Larry Craig, Idaho Republican; John Ensign, Nevada Republican; Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican; Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican; Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican; Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat; Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican; Ted Stevens Alaska Republican; George Voinovich, Ohio Republican; John Warner, Virginia Republican; and Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat. Sen. Sam Brownback, who missed the June 7 vote, also voted for amnesty. Two Democratic senators who previously supported amnesty — Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Evan Bayh of Indiana — reversed themselves and voted no.

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