Friday, January 6, 2006

In an apparent effort to kill any immigration reform bill in the Senate, open-borders advocates have gone to the P.R. playbook and come up with an old standby: trying to scare people into falsely believing that the Bush administration and the evil House Republicans are trying to persecute priests and nurses who provide humanitarian help to an illegal immigrant.

The New York Times published a news story on the subject last week that read like a brief for the pro-legalization side. “Churches, social service agencies and immigration groups,” the Times reported, are rallying in opposition to H.R. 4437, the immigration reform legislation passed by the House of Representatives last month, thanks in large part to the efforts of Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican.

The Times warned darkly that the bill “would broaden the nation’s immigrant-smuggling law so that people who assist or shield illegal immigrants would be subject to prosecution. Offenders, who might include priests, nurses or social workers, could face up to five years in prison. The proposal would also allow the authorities to seize some assets of those convicted of such a crime.” Moreover, the bill “could also subject the spouses and colleagues of illegal workers to prosecution.”

The Times piece also quoted a representative of the Conference of Catholic Bishops warning that the legislation “would place parish, diocesan and social service program staff at risk of criminal prosecution simply for performing their jobs.” Bush administration officials quoted by the Times declined comment on the legislation. And thus far, advocates of commonsense immigration reform on Capitol Hill appear to have made no sustained effort to defend this provision of the bill.

So, in the interest of accuracy, here are some relevant facts about Section 202 of the House-passed legislation, the section targeted by the bishops and the New York Times: There is simply nothing in the language of this section (one strongly advocated by border-state U.S. attorneys and which actually deals with alien smuggling and related offenses) that says anything that could be reasonably interpreted as an attempt to prosecute someone who gives a meal to an illegal alien or provides emergency health care. But the section does clearly address a very serious topic in a serious way: It substantially increases penalties for criminal smuggling rings who bring illegal aliens into the United States for commercial gain.

Unfortunately, thus far, supporters of the Sensenbrenner bill have barely begun to explain what Section 202 is really about. This passive approach is a mistake, because it permits people who are opposed to any serious effort to get control of our borders to monopolize and distort the debate. The Republicans are simply wrong to let the advocacy groups slander them for making a serious attempt to bring alien smugglers to justice.

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