Monday, May 22, 2006

Among those who will be cleared of past crimes under the Senate’s proposed immigration-reform bill would be the businesses that have employed the estimated 10 million illegal aliens eligible for citizenship and that provided the very “magnet” that drew them here in the first place.

Buried in the more than 600 pages of legislation is a section titled “Employer Protections,” which states: “Employers of aliens applying for adjustment of status under this section shall not be subject to civil and criminal tax liability relating directly to the employment of such alien.”

Supporters of the legislation insist that such provisions do not amount to “amnesty.”

“The legislation we are considering today is not amnesty,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said last week. “That is a pejorative term, really a smear term used to denigrate the efforts at comprehensive immigration reform. This is not amnesty because amnesty means a pardon of those who have broken the law.”

Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and others argue that the bill is not amnesty for illegal aliens because they will have to pay $2,000 in fines before they gain citizenship.

The law does not, however, provide for such fines against employers who have broken the law by hiring the illegals.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, vehemently opposes “this effort to waive the rules for lawbreakers and to legalize the unlawful actions of undocumented workers and the businesses that illegally employ them.”

Amnesties, he said, “are the dark underbelly of our immigration process.”

“They tarnish the magnanimous promise enshrined on the base of the Statue of Liberty,” Mr. Byrd said last week on the Senate floor. “Amnesties undermine that great egalitarian and American principle that the law should apply equally and should apply fairly to everyone.”

While most of the focus thus far has been on the “amnesty” granted to illegal aliens, opponents only now are discovering the broad range of crimes that will be forgiven under the legislation.

Lawyers for the Senate Judiciary Committee have scoured the bill and come up with a list of 31 crimes relating to illegal immigration that would be wiped clean.

Under current law, simply entering the country illegally can result in a six-month prison stay and a $250,000 fine. Aiding in that crime carries a similar fine and a five-year prison sentence. Once ordered deported, an illegal racks up $500 per day of continued “illegal presence.”

In addition, there are the perjury and false statements associated with fraudulently filling out federal tax forms. Each instance carries up to a five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Then there is the wide array of crimes relating to forging false documents needed to obtain work. Punishments for those crimes range from civil fines to 25 years in prison.

Also, there are crimes relating to the misuse of Social Security numbers needed to obtain work. Those crimes can result in five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Businesses that have committed any alien-hiring crimes would be forgiven under the provisions of the bill, although the laws would remain on the books and, thus, future violations could be prosecuted.

In addition to absolving illegals for past misuse of Social Security numbers and documentation, the Senate last week voted to allow aliens to get Social Security benefits based on working in the United States illegally.

The issue of granting amnesty — especially the employers who have drawn the illegal aliens to the country in the first place — already has become a growing issue in the fall elections.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, who is up for re-election this fall, is taking a tough stand in the current debate. He most often votes with conservative Republicans who want immigration laws that are tougher than what they’re calling “amnesty.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has dug up newspaper reports from several years ago, when Mr. Nelson lobbied on behalf of companies exasperated with federal immigration officials for cracking down on the illegal aliens they were hiring.

“Former Gov. Ben Nelson is representing a group of meatpackers and livestock producers upset with a federal crackdown on undocumented workers at the state’s packing plants,” according to an Associated Press report from June 3, 1999. “Nelson said a ‘loosely knit’ group of processors, producers and feeders first approached him last month about problems they have with the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s pilot program, called Operation Vanguard.”

In that article, titled “Nelson: INS Crackdown Draining State’s Small Labor Pool,” Mr. Nelson reportedly said he’d “contacted the state’s senators and congressmen to discuss possible changes in the INS program.”

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