In many ways, today’s House vote on an immigration-security bill will test whether Republicans are able to stand against the interests of K Street. After a series of highly-publicized scandals involving corrupt Republicans and lobbyists, a vote on principle, instead of pay-back, would send a signal that Republicans are serious about distancing themselves from the perception that they are in the pocket of big business. Besides, the bill, also known as the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, is good, and vital, policy.
Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are in a snit over provisions in the bill that treat their addiction to cheap labor. For instance, the bill mandates that every employer in America use an electronic system — what is known as the Basic Pilot Program — that makes sure new hires are legally allowed to work in the country. The system verifies Social Security numbers, so that illegals couldn’t forge their own to trick employers. Trick, however, isn’t the right word: Most employers know full well when they’re hiring cheap, illegal labor. To address that end of the problem, the bill increases fines for non-compliant businesses and those that continue to hire illegals.
As we’ve argued before, the only way to effectively combat illegal immigration is to eliminate the incentives which attract illegals in the first place. By enforcing employment practices, this bill is a good first step. Members of Rep. Tom Tancredo’s Immigration Reform Caucus have proposed dozens of provisions to strengthen the bill in this regard, some better than others. Rep. Nathan Deal’s amendment to end birthright citizenship, for example, strikes us an easy excuse congressmen can use to vote against the bill.
The other half of enforcement is border security, and on this issue the bill gets a lot right. Most noteworthy, it would bring an end to the “catch and release” policy. Currently, detained illegals are simply released into the country with a notice to return to court for their hearings. Not surprisingly, few, if any, do. Starting in Oct. 2006, every alien caught crossing the border illegally would be detained until removed from the country. The bill would also direct the Department of Homeland Security to take all necessary actions to gain control of the border, though without providing many specifics.
Perhaps best of all is the absence of President Bush’s misguided “guest-worker” proposal in the bill’s language. As advertised, this is an “enforcement first” immigration bill, and it’s a pretty good start.