- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Senate has finally showed signs of sanity in the immigration debate. By capping the number of “guest-workers” allowed into the country every year under the Hagel-Martinez “comprehensive” immigration bill and voting to build fencing and vehicle barriers along certain sections of the southern border, conservative senators have delivered a small victory in an otherwise mind-numbing debate.

Before wiser heads stepped in, the Hagel-Martinez bill allowed for an annual total of 325,000 low-skilled foreign-born workers, with an automatic 20 percent increase every year if demand required it. In addition, each guest worker would be allowed to bring his family. As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation found, “at this 20 percent growth rate, a total of 70 million guest workers would enter the U.S. over the next two decades and none would be required to leave.” That bit of information was not in the president’s speech Monday night.

Still, the Senate bill is not good news. Hagel-Martinez increases nearly every category of legal immigration. With the Senate having capped the annual number of guest workers at 200,000, the 20-year total of new legal immigration falls below 72 million (which was Mr. Rector’s estimate assuming an annual 325,000 guest-worker total minus the 20 percent escalator provision). Previously, Mr. Rector put the total at 103 million (assuming a 10 percent annual growth rate in guest workers), and the less likely though legally possible 193 million (with a 20 percent growth rate). Meanwhile, the flow of illegal aliens would continue.

Of course, the analysis assumes that the federal government can process all these new legal immigrants flawlessly and without fraud. But as the Government Accountability Office has already found, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can’t handle the relatively meager work load it currently processes.

This brings us to Hagel-Martinez’s illogical three-tiered amnesty idea. The foundation of this idea is that illegal aliens would be able to prove they have lived in this country for two or more years to qualify for amnesty. That is already estimated to be 10 million of the 12 million illegals. As amnesty proponents consistently remind us, illegals have been “living in the shadows” without legal identification, without paying taxes and by avoiding activities that would leave a paper trail, such as opening a bank account or getting a credit card, albeit fraudulently.

It’s easy to see how proving an illegal alien’s resident status would be quite a job for the normally sluggish federal bureaucracy. It’s even easier to see, given the difficulties, how illegal aliens could game the system, as bureaucrats get pressured by politicians to expedite the process. Senators are deluding themselves into thinking this idea could work. And they’re deluding Americans about the real cost of Hagel-Martinez.

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