The Senate immigration reform bill would allow for up to 193 million new legal immigrants — a number greater than 60 percent of the current U.S. population — in the next 20 years, according to a study released yesterday.
“The magnitude of changes that are entailed in this bill — and are largely unknown — rival the impact of the creation of Social Security or the creation of the Medicare program,” said Robert Rector, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who conducted the study.
Although the legislation would permit 193 million new immigrants in the next two decades, Mr. Rector estimated that it is more likely that about 103 million new immigrants actually would arrive in the next 20 years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican who conducted a separate analysis that reached similar results, said Congress is “blissfully ignorant of the scope and impact” of the bill, which has bipartisan support in the Senate and has been praised by President Bush.
“This Senate is not ready to pass legislation that so significantly changes our future immigration policy,” he said yesterday. “The impact this bill will have over the next 20 years is monumental and has not been thought through.”
The 614-page “compromise” bill — hastily cobbled together last month by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida — would give illegal aliens who have been in the U.S. two years or longer a right to citizenship. Illegals who have been here less than two years would have to return to their home countries to apply for citizenship.
Although that “amnesty” would be granted to about 10 million illegals, the real growth in the immigrant population would come later.
As part of the bill, the annual flow of legal immigrants allowed into the U.S. would more than double to more than 2 million annually. In addition, the guest-worker program in the bill would bring in 325,000 new workers annually who could later apply for citizenship.
That population would grow exponentially from there because the millions of new citizens would be permitted to bring along their extended families. Also, Mr. Sessions said, the bill includes “escalating caps,” which would raise the number of immigrants allowed in as more people seek to enter the U.S.
“The impact of this increase in legal immigration dwarfs the magnitude of the amnesty provisions,” said Mr. Rector, who has followed Congress for 25 years. He called the bill “the most dramatic piece of legislation in my experience.”
Mr. Rector based his numerical projection on the number of family members that past immigrants have sponsored.
Immigration into the U.S. would become an “entitlement,” Mr. Sessions said. “The decision as to who may come will almost totally be controlled by the desire of the individuals who wish to immigrate to the United States rather than by the United States government.”
Although most opposition has come from conservatives, liberals are growing increasingly uneasy about increasing the competition for American jobs — especially the low-paying ones.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, said yesterday that he would introduce an amendment to strip out the guest-worker program, warning that the legislation would “pull apart the middle class in this country.”
One of the most alarming aspects of the bill, opponents say, is that it eliminates a long-standing policy of U.S. immigration law that prohibits anyone from gaining permanent status here who is considered “likely to become a public charge,” meaning welfare or other government subsidy.
This change is particularly troublesome because the bill also slants legal immigration away from highly skilled and highly educated workers to the unskilled and uneducated, who are far more likely to require public assistance. In addition, adult immigrants will be permitted to bring along their parents, who would eventually be eligible for Social Security even though they had never paid into it.
Mr. Rector estimated that the eventual cost of the bill to the American taxpayer would be about $50 billion per year. Mr. Sessions said he hopes to educate his colleagues about what’s in the bill before they vote on it, but there’s little evidence that they’re interested.
Last month, he asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct an in-depth study and hold hearings into the fiscal impact of the bill as well as the impact the bill would have on future immigration. The committee produced no study and held one hearing strictly on the fiscal aspects of the bill. Only three of his fellow panel members showed up, he said.