The Senate yesterday voted against securing the border before implementing provisions that would grant the right of citizenship to millions of illegal aliens and that would double the flow of legal immigration.
The amendment would have delayed the “amnesty” and guest-worker provisions in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill until the border had been sewn up successfully. The majority of Democrats, 36 of 44, were joined by 18 Republicans and the chamber’s lone independent to kill the amendment on an 55-40 vote.
The vote came one day after President Bush laid out his five-point plan for reforming immigration laws. Like many in the Senate, he wants to strengthen the border while at the same time grant citizenship rights to millions of those already here and create a new program to bring in hundreds of thousands of new workers each year.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush said he would not accept any bill from Congress that does not include a guest-worker program and provisions to grant citizenship to at least some of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens already in the country.
“Part of my job is to lead, and I did last night,” Mr. Bush said. “I said I want a comprehensive bill because I understand there needs to be a comprehensive bill in order to make — in order for us to achieve the objective.”
White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissed the criticisms yesterday, saying that “a lot of people have reacted to the president’s proposal without having had time to evaluate it.”
Polls, meanwhile, show that Americans don’t trust the federal government to secure the border and overwhelmingly want Congress and the administration to stem the flow of illegal aliens pouring over the border each day before tackling other aspects of immigration reform. Only the House, which last year approved a border security-only bill, stands in the way of a “comprehensive” reform at the moment.
But those favoring tougher immigration restrictions were not completely without victories yesterday.
The guest-worker program — which had been estimated to bring in more than 130 million new workers and family members over the next 20 years — was scaled back severely last night. The Senate approved an amendment, which Capitol Hill Republicans said the White House had lobbied against, to cap the guest-worker program at 200,000 new workers each year.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who has led the effort to reveal the numerical consequences of the Senate bill, hailed last night’s action and said it would reduce the final number of guest workers and family members to fewer than 9 million over the next two decades.
“This amendment represented a massive victory over the open-borders lobby,” he said after the overwhelming vote to approve the amendment. “It fundamentally changed the low-skill foreign-worker caps under the Senate bill by doing two things — reducing the annual low-skill foreign-worker cap from 325,000 to 200,000 per year and eliminating the automatic 20 percent increase to the cap that could have occurred annually.”
Earlier this week, The Washington Times reported that the Senate bill would have more than doubled the annual flow of legal immigration into the country. Yesterday, The Times reported that two separate analyses — one by Mr. Sessions, the other by the Heritage Foundation —. estimated that the bill overall ultimately could bring in as many as 193 million new legal immigrants over the next 20 years.
Those favoring tougher immigration laws also applauded a compromise reached last night that would bar illegal aliens who are convicted felons from obtaining citizenship.
For weeks, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada refused to allow consideration of such an amendment because, he said, it would “gut” the larger bill. But last night, senators agreed to language that would bar citizenship to felons, people convicted of three misdemeanors, or anyone who had ignored a court order to leave the U.S.
Senate aides on both sides of the aisle said the changes are considerable and could alter the fragile coalition that supports the bill, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office yesterday to cost $50 billion. Business advocates could drop their support over the reduced guest-worker plan, aides said, and liberal advocates could drop their support over the agreement to bar felons from citizenship.
Yesterday’s thwarted amendment to shore up the border before implementing other immigration reforms was sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican. Supporters said it would prevent a repeat of Congress’ last attempt to reform the country’s immigration laws, an effort that both sides widely view as a disaster.
In 1986, Congress approved legislation to grant amnesty and shore up the border. Though 3 million illegal aliens were made citizens, the federal government never secured the border.
“We didn’t enforce the border, and we granted amnesty,” Mr. Isakson said. “And 20 years later, there are 11 million to 12 million to 13 million who have come because of the promise and opportunity of this country, but also because we’ve given a wink and a nod to the security of our border.”
Said Mr. Isakson’s fellow Georgian, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss: “I do not see how any senator who is serious about border security and enforcing our immigration laws can disagree with it. To disagree with this amendment sends the message to the American people that we are more eager to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship than we are to secure our borders from further illegal immigration and the smuggling of illegal drugs and weapons.”
These are the 17 senators who quietly tried to kill the cap amendment:
Bond, Mo.; Brownback, Kan.; Chafee, R.I.; DeWine, Ohio; Graham, S.C.; Gregg, N.H.; Lugar, Ind.; Martinez, Fla; McCain, Ariz.; Murkowski, Alaska; Shelby, Ala.; Smith, Ore.; Specter, Pa.; Stevens, Alaska.
Kennedy, Mass.; Lieberman, Conn.; Salazar, Colo.
In addition, these 11 senators initially voted to kill the cap but changed their votes during or after the roll call:
Bennett, Utah; Coleman, Minn.; Collins, Maine; Frist, Tenn.; Hagel, Neb.; Kyl, Ariz.; McConnell, Ky.; Voinovich, Ohio.
Kohl, Wis.; Mikulski, Md.; Obama, Ill.
Source: The Washington Times