The latest immigration bill approved by the Senate is “far, far worse” than the 1986 immigration bill that granted amnesty to 2.7 million illegal aliens and created the magnet for the millions more who have come here since, a House panel was told at a hearing yesterday.
In addition to providing legalization to about four times as many illegal aliens as did the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), witnesses said, the current bill also repeats mistakes made 20 years ago that will render the border-enforcement provisions and employer sanctions meaningless.
“The Senate amnesty would condemn the United States to the same harmful consequences that IRCA caused,” James R. Edwards Jr. of the Hudson Institute told the House Judiciary’s subcommittee that handles immigration. “Only now, its effects would be far, far worse.”
Rep. John Hostettler, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, said the problem with the 1986 legislation was that it allowed legalization before measures were put in place to enforce immigration restrictions and punish those who violated immigration laws.
“Time showed us that IRCA has utterly and completely failed,” he said. “Illegal immigration has not been controlled, but has increased significantly in the past two decades.”
Democrats on the panel, for the most part, criticized Republicans for holding what they called a “mock hearing” and accused them of trying to score political points off the explosive issue just months before the next election.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said the reason the 1986 bill did not work is that it was not “comprehensive” enough, a criticism she also leveled at the enforcement-only bill approved by the House last year.
“Although IRCA had legalization programs and new enforcement measures, it did not address all of the essential issues,” she said. “For instance, it failed to provide enough legal visas to meet future immigration needs.”
Mrs. Jackson-Lee also castigated Republicans for smearing the Senate bill with the term “amnesty” because it will grant citizenship rights to some 10 million illegal aliens already here.
“It was derived from the Latin word ‘amnesti,’ which means amnesia,” she said after giving the definition. “S.2611 does not have any provisions that would forget or overlook immigration law violations.”
Replied Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican: “I don’t care what we call it. It’s a bad bill, and America knows it’s a bad bill.”
Though Republicans repeatedly referred to the bill as “Reid-Kennedy” for Sens. Harry Reid and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats noted that the legislation has broad support among Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Bill Frist. President Bush also has been highly supportive of the bill.
Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said Mr. Bush is committed to a “three-pronged approach” to immigration reform. He wants to strengthen the border, enhance interior enforcement of immigration laws and create a temporary-worker program.
Asked whether this election year is causing problems for the White House in making their case, Mr. Jackson replied, “There is a lot of focus on gaining control of the border this year and we welcome that.”
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat who served 26 years in the Border Patrol, was among those who testified yesterday. He accused Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress of wasting time with the hearings.
“Talk is cheap,” he said. “What border residents want and what Americans want when it comes to border security and immigration reform is action.”
But Mr. Hostettler warned that action without consideration for the mistakes of 1986 will only create a bigger problem in the decades to come.
“Congress and the administration have no credibility with the American people,” he said.
“Why should Americans have any reason to believe that the supposed enhanced enforcement provisions in Reid-Kennedy will be effectively enforced by the administration any more than successive administrations have enforced IRCA?” Mr. Hostettler asked. “The administration will probably implement amnesty for millions of illegal aliens quite quickly. Enforcement will likely lag behind if it occurs at all. We will find ourselves in exactly the same place we found ourselves 20 years ago.”