- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began discussing Chairman Arlen Specter’s “comprehensive” immigration-reform bill, which the White House says it’s pleased with. Of course, White House approval means the Specter proposal includes the president’s “guest-worker” idea, as well as amnesty for an estimated 10 million illegal aliens. No doubt we speak for a majority of Americans when we say, “Try again, Mr. Specter.”

Throughout the immigration debate, supporters of “comprehensive” reform — a bill that addresses both security and amnesty — have missed an important point. If, as the amnesty advocates contend, enforcement efforts have failed, what makes them think the federal government will be any better at managing a “guest-worker” program that has no limits on how many can apply? There is nothing in the government’s enforcement record to date to convince us it would make good on the bill’s promise to deport “temporary” workers who have been unemployed for 45 days or exceed their maximum six-year visa. A more likely scenario is that they would simply go underground.

As for the 10 million or so illegal aliens already underground, the bill would allow them to remain here indefinitely, just so long as they register with the Department of Homeland Security and pay back taxes. Assuming Homeland Security could even handle 10 million more applications on top of the 6 million it already processes, this naive proposal might work if illegal aliens were under any threat of deportation. But they’re not. It’s foolish to hope that they will suddenly all rush out to pay taxes, especially since the bill doesn’t grant them citizenship or even legal permanent residence. What those who do apply will be is a permanent underclass of non-citizens with no opportunity for assimilation or advancement.

Mr. Specter tries to sweeten this bitter deal with stricter enforcement provisions, such as requiring employers to verify the work eligibility of new hires and an annual increase of 250 inspectors over a three-year period. This is a half-hearted effort to make the bill at least partially compatible with Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s enforcement-first bill, which passed the House in December. But instead of a border fence authorized by the Sensenbrenner bill, the Specter proposal merely calls for a study into the need for a fence.

The good news is that Mr. Specter included security provisions. The Senate should start there. Scrap the fantasy of “comprehensive” reform, which means getting rid of the amnesty and “guest-worker” proposals. Nothing says Congress needs to pack both security and amnesty into the same bill. First, tighten the enforcement provisions. Americans might be more willing to listen to “guest-worker” proposals, if Congress showed that it could do something about illegal immigration. Otherwise, the Specter bill is a non-starter.

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