- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

The senators who worked late Wednesday night devising a “compromise” on immigration legislation should have gone to bed early, serving the country better by getting some sleep. The “compromise” they came up with bears a striking resemblance to the one which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago. Amnesty? Check. Guest-worker program? Check. So where exactly is the compromise?

It all depends, to revise a famously fatuous remark, on what the definition of amnesty is. Instead of the committee’s blanket amnesty of all 11 million illegal immigrants, senators appear to have agreed to the definition offered Wednesday night by Sens. Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel. Illegal immigrants who have been in the country more than five years, estimated to be about 7 million, would get a pass toward citizenship. Those living in the country less than five years but more than two would be required to return home — perhaps just to a “port of entry,” whatever that means — and re-enter as temporary workers with a path toward citizenship. The rest, those living here less than two years, would go home to get in line for a guest-worker program like everyone else naive enough to obey the law of the United States.

Still to be explained is how a three-tiered amnesty solves any of the problems of a blanket amnesty. In fact, it adds a few more. In both scenarios, the workability of amnesty rests on the assumption that illegal immigrants would willingly pay a fine and back taxes for citizenship. But there are no incentives for them to do so, unless Congress imposes a criminal threat on their continued illegality and on the employers who hire them. Neither threat is in the Senate bill. The same applies to the idea that illegal immigrants who don’t qualify for immediate amnesty would willingly leave the country.

There are also the considerable problems of verifying how long someone has actually lived in the country. Rep. J.D. Hayworth got it right when he compared this idea to the 1986 amnesty approach. “The number of those applying for [the 1986] benefit was three times higher than expected, largely because of fraud, which was rampant,” he said. “The Senate bill would likewise be vulnerable to fraud on a grand scale and be a nightmare to administer.”

Meanwhile, the guest-worker program of the committee bill was left largely intact. So it’s worthwhile repeating the argument of columnist Robert Samuelson’s against the “need” for guest workers. Noting that since 1980 the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government’s poverty line has risen 162 percent, Mr. Samuelson, in March 22 editiions of The Washington Post, concludes that a guest-worker program “is a conscious policy of creating poverty in the United States while relieving it in Mexico.” In addition, he notes, between 1994 and 2004, “the wages of high school dropouts rose only 2.3 percent,” which is almost entirely attributable to the glut of cheap immigrant labor. Cut off the spigot and wages will rise.

The good news is that the the pro-illegal-immigrant senators tried to end debate on the committee bill, and couldn’t, with only 39 senators voting to do so. Amnesty opponents, such as Sens. John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions, say they aren’t anymore impressed with the “compromise.” Nor should they be. The Senate still has not come up with a realistic bill. And the first step is to unambiguously secure the border.

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