- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

President Bush is really angry about the two visas that recently arrived at the Venice, Fla., flight school for Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, two of the hijackers of September 11. He says such a, shall we say, belated INS action is "inexcusable" and shows that our entire immigration service needs reform.
"I was stunned and not happy," our mad commander in chief said last Wednesday at his press conference. "Let me put it another way: I was plenty hot."
This is, of course, all well and good. The fact that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is so disorganized that it could award these people student visas six months after their crimes (and their deaths) holds the national sacrifice of September 11 up to ridicule.
But the story does not end there. For last week at the precise directions of Mr. Bush the House sneaked through a bill directly related to the student visa fiasco. The House approved the bill by a vote of 275-137. On the surface, it is desirable in that it provides for new visa-screening requirements to spot suspected terrorists.
But deliberately cloaked in the bill the first attempted passage was, in fact, to be by unrecorded vote was the highly controversial Section 245(i) amendment to the immigration law, which allows "undocumented" immigrants (who, to employ plainer talk, are really illegal aliens) to immediately get permanent residency. All they need to do is pay the federal government $1,000 and have a close relative or employer sponsor them.
This decision gives people who come here illegally the ability to skirt American law, to move to the front of the line because they have skirted that law, and to avoid any real check on their past. Without it, they would have to return to their own countries, apply legally, probably wait up to 10 years and go through at least the minimal check of experienced visa and consular officers in the American Embassies.
The fact that this entire scenario was cloaked in the secrecy and deception of a spy novel it was included in the day's "suspension calendar," which is generally reserved for noncontroversial matters demonstrates the degree to which the administration is trying to advance its idea of amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens in America, perhaps up to 9 million.
"Originally, we were going to vote on 245(i) alone," Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who for his part was just as angry as President Bush, told me early in the week, "but the House leadership realized it did not have the votes, so it combined 245(i) with the visa tracking bill to get it through. The president feels he needs this as a mini-amnesty to take to the Mexican president when he meets him next week."
And that does seem to be the inner reality of this contradictory drama. When the American president meets with President Vicente Fox next week at the U.N. conference on finance and development in Monterrey, Mexico, he wants to be able to give the first foreign leader he was comfortable with this gift of American largess. Part of the explanation is W's romantic attachment to Mexico. Part of it is big business pushing the president to provide them with more and more cheap and compliant labor. And part of it is the White House's incredibly cynical attempt to manipulate American politics at the expense of American citizens by bringing more Hispanics here, supposing they will all, in gratitude, vote Republican.
In private meetings with the House Republican leadership, some of whom were wary about pushing 245(i) through in this subterranean manner, the president was asked to assure them that this would, at least, be the last amnesty. (The first, for 3 million illegals in 1986, was supposed to be the last, but led to the situation where we now face another.) According to the newspaper reports here, the president said no.
The White House and American diplomats working in these areas overseas say that passing 245(i) is not a real amnesty. It will affect only small numbers of people, they argue, good people who have been here for a long time and are working hard. They further see no relationship to the events of September 11 or to the Middle Eastern terrorists, arguing that most of the 245(i) recipients will be Mexican.
Unfortunately, these arguments don't wash.
At least one of the terrorists, Mahmoud "The Red" Abouhalima, an illegal alien taxi driver in New York, received amnesty as an agricultural worker, and others were still in illegal status, which could have been easily manipulated by a stipulation such as 245(i).
But more important, such mini-amnesties say to the world: "We haven't learned anything from 9/11. We still don't care a whit about who obeys our laws in fact, we don't obey them ourselves, not if we need dawn-to-dark laborers in California and Oregon or chicken farm laborers in Arkansas."
Maybe this time, in Monterrey, President Fox will have a gift for his American friend; maybe he will say something nice. Small historical note: After September 11, President Bush's good friend did not offer a single word of condolence for more than two weeks because Mexican public opinion, always playing around the edges of resentful anti-Americanism, was so strongly against any gesture to the United States.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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