- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

Responding to the needs of the country, Sen. Bill Frist plans to introduce a security-first immigration bill directly, bypassing the sluggish committee process. Were this legislation not so urgently needed, the majority leader’s use of this rare parliamentary procedure might be considered inappropriate. But even the most enthusiastic defenders of the president’s guest-worker idea don’t deny that responsible immigration reform must include increased border security and enforcement.

This doesn’t mean those very same defenders are above politics. A “colossal mistake,” said Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, whose own bill includes both security and a guest-worker/amnesty provisions. “The majority leader is wrong,” intoned committee member Dianne Feinstein. What these critics are forgetting, as they endlessly debate guest-worker ideas, is that the only thing anyone can agree on is the need to strengthen our border security. So why not get that out of the way first, before the reform momentum is lost to election-year politicking?

That, at any rate, seems to be Mr. Frist’s motivation. Moreover, it’s good and necessary policy. As even proponents concede, a guest-worker bill would be unmanageable without complementary security provisions. (The question of whether one would be manageable with security provisions is far less certain.) The bill would basically include Mr. Specter’s proposal minus the guest-worker provisions. In that way, it’s much more compatible with Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s security-first bill, which passed the House last year.

There are the political implications. The polls indicate that voters will not reward lawmakers who pass immigration reform so much as punish those who fail to fix the borders. But Republicans are split, as the difference between the Sensenbrenner bill and the various proposals wafting through the Senate show. That schism now threatens any progress on the issue Republicans might tout going into November. Because conservative voters are the most vocal advocates of securing the borders, it’s reasonable to assume that Republicans will bear the brunt of voter unrest should immigration reform fail this year.

However, without White House approval, a security-first bill won’t become law this year. The administration should think long and hard before reflexively resisting legislation that doesn’t include the president’s guest-worker idea, which almost certainly will not pass this year. President Bush is in need of a legislative victory and the country is in dire need of security at the border. Throwing his support behind the Frist bill would help unite the Republican Party, which has been at war with itself for too long.

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