The Senate’s immigration bill will cut annual illegal immigration by just 25 percent, and the bill’s new guest-worker program could lead to at least 500,000 more illegal aliens within a decade, Congress’ accounting arm said yesterday.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in its official cost estimate that many guest workers will overstay their time in the plan, with the number totaling a half-million in 2017 and reaching 1 million a decade later.
“We anticipate that many of those would remain in the United States illegally after their visas expire,” CBO said of the guest-worker program.
In a blow to President Bush’s timetable, the CBO said the security “triggers” that must be met before the guest-worker program can begin won’t be met until 2010. Mr. Bush had hoped to have those triggers — setting up a verification system, deploying 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents and constructing hundreds of miles of fencing and vehicle barriers — completed about the time he leaves office in January 2009.
The bill is the result of a “grand bargain” reached by a small bipartisan group of senators and the Bush administration in closed-door negotiations. Under the deal, illegal aliens get immediate legal status and a pathway to citizenship, businesses get access to a stream of temporary workers in the future, and future immigration will take into account needed skills.
Senators returned yesterday after a weeklong vacation to make a last push to pass the bill by Friday.
The Senate yesterday adopted four amendments by unanimous consent, including one that curbs courts’ ability to review revocations of visas. But because of the slow pace of work before their vacation, senators have most of the contentious votes still to come.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, warned Democrats not to try to cut off Republicans’ amendments.
“We need to have maximum opportunity for the largest number of amendments to be considered before we entertain the notion of shutting down debate on this important measure,” he said.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the top Republican in the negotiations for the grand bargain, yesterday laid out the “killer” amendments he said will break the grand bargain and cause him to have to oppose the bill: creating a separate employer-sponsored system of up to 300,000 new green cards; giving temporary workers a path to citizenship; and changing the dates or definitions to allow broader family migration.
Mr. Kyl said if any of those passed, “I certainly would not support the legislation, I would do everything I can to get it defeated.”
But Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said he will insist on amendments to change the dates for family immigration and rejected Mr. Kyl’s threat.
“No one has a monopoly on how best to provide for comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Menendez said.
Meanwhile, the bill appears to have picked up steam on the left, with immigrant rights groups saying that even though they aren’t happy with the bill, they want the Senate to pass it.
In a conference call yesterday, representatives of the National Council of La Raza and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials told reporters that instead of opposing the bill, they intend to try to alter it later in the legislative process.
While much of the debate so far has focused on the policy decisions in the bill, questions are being raised about whether the bill’s programs can work.
CBO’s report said it was “uncertain” how much future illegal immigration would be cut by the bill. Past enforcement measures have “historically been relatively ineffective,” the analysts said, but said this bill’s measures — extra agents, prosecutors and investigators, fencing and workplace sanctions — will have some effect.
“CBO estimates that those measures would reduce the net annual flow of unauthorized immigrants by one-quarter,” the report said.
Still, with up to an estimated 1 million illegal aliens entering each year, CBO is assuming a large problem will remain.
The report said the bill would increase discretionary spending by $43 billion over the next decade, but new workers would pump $48 billion into the government, mostly in Social Security taxes, during that time.
CBO provides official cost estimates for most bills voted on by Congress. The estimates are based on studies of past programs and evaluation of each bill’s requirements.
Among the costs would be a new 4,500-employee government bureaucracy to administer the employee-verification system. CBO said it expects the system to handle 20 million verifications initially, with the number peaking at 160 million in 2010 before settling on an annual volume of between 70 million and 75 million verifications.
The report also figures that the new enforcement and verification will cut down on annual illegal immigration, but only by about 25 percent — short of the expectation of some lawmakers defending the bill.
As for the security-enhancement triggers, CBO said an amendment passed last week to increase the number of agents to be hired and deployed means the goal won’t be met until late 2010. The original goal was to hire 18,000 Border Patrol agents, but under the amendment that passed on a voice vote the Homeland Security secretary must now certify that 20,000 Border Patrol agents have actually been trained and deployed.
“CBO judges that the expanded requirements would add six months to the time necessary to meet them and that the secretary’s certification would occur near the end of fiscal year 2010,” the report said.