The Senate is expected to approve as early as today the most significant and wide-ranging immigration reform legislation in two decades.
The bill would grant citizenship rights to an estimated 10 million illegal aliens currently in the country and allow them to collect Social Security benefits for work they performed while illegally employed in the U.S. The bill also grants complete amnesty to employers who have drawn the estimated 12 million aliens to the U.S. by illegally providing them with jobs.
In addition, an estimated 2 million new foreigners will be admitted to the country annually under the bill, more than doubling the current flow of legal immigration.
While those opposed to granting amnesty to illegal aliens remain opposed to the bill, they applaud the efforts included in it to strengthen the border, such as 370 miles of “triple-wire fencing” to be erected in areas that get a lot of traffic from border crossers.
And while they support many of the provisions in the bill aimed at tougher enforcement of immigration law in the future, many remain convinced that those promises soon will be broken by the federal government. They point to the 1986 immigration bill, which granted amnesty to 3 million aliens and promised a sealed border and tougher enforcement.
The 3 million became citizens, the border wasn’t secured, immigration laws were not enforced and those 3 million were replaced by the estimated 12 million who are the subject of the current bill.
Aides on both sides of the Senate debate say that the floor vote on the overall bill could come today, but if that does not happen, they still say a final vote is certain by week’s end.
As proof that the Senate is not really serious about fixing the problem, the anti-amnesty lawmakers point to last week’s decision to reject an amendment that would have delayed the “amnesty” provisions of the bill until the secretary of homeland security certified that the border had been secured.
That’s not to say, however, that they’ve been entirely without successes.
Yesterday, the Senate voted 61-37 to kill an amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, to extend the “amnesty” to all eligible illegals who sneaked across the border before Jan. 1.
The current bill requires anyone who arrived in the past two years to return home before applying for citizenship.
In another vote yesterday, the Senate handily turned back an effort to allow asylum to be granted to foreigners who have associated with terrorist organizations against their will. The amendment was offered by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, and others.
“They deserve our compassion,” Mr. Leahy said before the 79-20 vote to quash the amendment. “Let us bring our laws back in line with our values.”
The Senate also rejected an amendment by Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, to give shoplifters and others a way to seek a “humanitarian waiver” from the attorney general or the secretary of homeland security to avoid deportation.
Mr. Durbin said that some of the provisions in current immigration law for deporting law-breakers and their accomplices is overly broad.
“It included nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting,” Mr. Durbin said before the Senate voted 63-34 to kill the proposal. “That’s right. … Under this provision, a teenager who is a lawful permanent resident and has lived in this country most of her life could be subject to mandatory detention and deportation if she drives a friend home from the mall who shoplifted a DVD.”
This morning, the Senate is expected to take up an amendment by Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, that would require citizens to present photo identification to vote in federal elections.
Once approved, the Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the tougher enforcement-only legislation approved last year in the House. Conservatives in the House have said they will not accept any of the “amnesty” provisions included in the Senate bill.
Rep. Mike Pence, an influential House conservative from Indiana, announced yesterday, however, that he would support a plan that has been pushed for years by Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas. The Kyl-Cornyn bill would require all illegals to return home at some point to apply for citizenship. It also would create a guest-worker program.
The proposal still is opposed by hard-liners such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.
“Mike Pence is making the same mistakes that the president has, using the straw man of mass deportations and redefining amnesty to suit his interests,” Mr. Tancredo said yesterday. “Unfortunately, like the president, Pence is breaking from House conservatives who remain steadfast in their support of a security-first approach to immigration.”