The immigration bill now under consideration in the Senate would grant even a broader amnesty to illegal aliens than similar legislation did in 1986, conservatives say, and would make hundreds of thousands of illegal residents eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
“It should be called ‘No Illegal Alien Left Behind,’” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.
In 1986, Congress granted amnesty to 2.7 million illegal aliens. Current legislation would allow an estimated 11 million illegal aliens to continue working in the U.S. while applying for full citizenship.
Backers of the current legislation say it’s not amnesty because the illegals would be fined $2,000. But opponents say it is amnesty because the illegals won’t be sent home as required under current federal law.
It is “in every sense of what people mean by amnesty,” Mr. Sessions said. “If it is not amnesty, it is the same thing as amnesty.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and primary author of the bill, defends the program.
“All undocumented immigrants deserve this chance,” he said. “But only those who pay the stiff fines, work for six years, pay their taxes, learn English and pass a civics test will be permitted to remain in the United States.”
When the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the proposal last week, many were still not clear about its details because it was still largely made up of oral agreements. But once the 471-page bill was produced and distributed late last week, conservatives were alarmed by some of the provisions.
None so much as the proposal to make illegal aliens eligible for in-state tuition costs.
“This means that while American citizens from Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts have to pay out-of-state tuition rates if they send their kids to the University of Virginia or the University of Alabama, people who have illegally immigrated into the country do not,” Mr. Sessions said. “How much sense does that make, to have people here illegally and they have more benefits than those who are here legally?”
In 2000, 126,000 illegal aliens were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, according to figures published by the Congressional Research Service. It’s not clear how many would be eligible for in-state tuition rates if the current proposal became law.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he expects a final Senate floor vote on immigration legislation this week.
For years, Democrats and Republicans such as Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah have pursued legislation that would enable illegals to get in-state tuition rates, which can be as little as one-third of what out-of-state students pay. While past proposals have made little headway, this one was added to the current bill last week after just minutes of debate.
“It will free eligible students from the constant fear of deportation,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We hope to extend Hispanic young people greater educational opportunities, so they may realize the American dream and achieve their potential.”
But voters, even in liberal states such as Massachusetts, overwhelmingly oppose providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts legislature was poised to approve such a measure. But after a statewide groundswell of opposition from both Democrats and Republicans, the state House voted it down by a 96-57 vote.
The bill in the Senate, Mr. Session said, also would make illegals eligible for financial aid.
Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the financial-aid provision was stripped out, but defended the larger proposal. “We are not a country that punishes children for the mistakes of their parents,” he said.
Mr. Sessions and other conservative Republicans spent much of last week denouncing the Senate proposal while emphasizing their support for legal immigration.
But in a column posted yesterday on OpinionJournal.com, White House ally Ed Gillespie dismissed their approach as “populist” and suggested those Republicans oppose even legal immigrants and immigration.
“The Republican Party cannot become an anti-immigration party,” Mr. Gillespie warned his fellow Republicans. “Our majority already rests too heavily on white voters, given that current demographic voting percentages will not allow us to hold our majority in the future.”