The collapse on Thursday of the amnesty bill pushed by the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership is certainly welcome news. It shows that, even with Big Labor, Big Business and scores of powerful politicians pressing for an open-borders bill that endangers national security and public safety and could bankrupt public treasuries, the American people, when alerted to the mischief afoot on Capitol Hill, can stop it in its tracks. Clearly opponents of the bill were aided by the heavy-handed approach taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose efforts to set arbitrary deadlines for ramming the legislation through backfired and drove away Republican supporters.
But even with Mr. Reid's bullying and incompetence as a legislative tactician, he could have succeeded in shutting off debate if it hadn't been for the fact that Americans said no en masse to open borders and policies that encourage people to come to this country and remain here in violation of our laws — e-mailing, telephoning, faxing, and, in general, bombarding their senators with messages of opposition to the bill. That, combined with the fact that the staunchest advocates of mass amnesty (in particular, Sen. Bob Menendez and the AFL-CIO) overplayed their hand by piling on with even more generous incentives for poor residents of Mexico to take up residence in the United States eventually made it impossible to move forward, causing Mr. Reid to throw in the towel ( at least for now) on Thursday night.
But this is no time for critics of the open-borders approach to celebrate or to rest on their laurels, because our current immigration policy is a mess. We have between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens in the United States, and we have barely started building a border fence. "Workplace enforcement" of laws barring illegal aliens from holding jobs in the United States is a joke — virtually nonexistent except when the administration decides it is time for a good photo op to show that it is "getting tough" on wayward employers.
While the Bush administration deserves a large share of the blame for Thursday's legislative debacle, Mr. Reid's failings as majority leader are even more egregious. On Thursday, he came up embarrassingly short in three attempts to cut off debate — failing by 27, 26 and finally 15 votes on a bill he claimed was one of his top legislative priorities. But right after the final vote Thursday night, Mr. Reid rushed to the microphones to give the media his propaganda spin: that he is a virtuous fighter for "reform" and that Mr. Bush and the Republicans are the real villains. "The headline is going to be 'Democrats vote for the bill, Republicans vote against it, the president fails again,'" Mr. Reid said. But in the end, 11 of Mr. Reid's fellow Democrats — among them Sens. Max Baucus, Mary Landrieu, Jay Rockefeller and Mark Pryor, who are up for re-election next year — joined Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and 38 Republicans (many of whom were supporters of the immigration bill) in voting against the majority leader's efforts to cut off debate: On the final roll-call Thursday, Mr. Reid could only muster 45 votes to end debate, 15 short of the 60 needed.
Indeed, Mr. Reid did such a poor job that one can legitimately question whether he really wanted to pass the bill or was simply trying to engineer failure and blame the Republicans for it. On Thursday night, Republicans were in the process of cutting down the number of amendments filed from more than 200 to a list containing less than 20, and they told Mr. Reid that the list could have been ready within a few days. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who has in general indicated support for the bill, said he believed that Republican opponents would have eventually given in if Mr. Reid had allowed them a few days to work out an agreement on which amendments could be offered. But Mr. Reid yanked the bill from the floor.
We think the reason Mr. Reid behaved this way is the fact that the issue is a political loser for open-borders types: Pollster Scott Rasmussen's last national telephone poll found, to cite one notable example, that just 23 percent of Americans supported the legislation, and that only 16 percent thought the Senate bill would achieve what is necessary to fix immigration, and that is to secure the border and reduce illegal immigration.
The demise of the Senate bill offers an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and come up with a serious immigration bill that first focuses on securing the border — not with triggers but with bricks and mortar — and workplace enforcement.