Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The debate over illegal immigration could return to the Senate floor as early as today, with an emergency appropriations bill to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the bill on Thursday, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Larry Craig, Idaho Republican, successfully attached an amendment that would grant temporary legal status to an estimated 1.35 million illegal-alien farmworkers over the next five years. This number jumps to at least 3 million when children and spouses are factored in. Moreover, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, these workers would be immune from prosecution for crimes such as stealing someone’s Social Security number. The amendment passed on a 17-12 vote over the opposition of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.

Granting blanket amnesty is wrong. For the past year, Mrs. Feinstein has been pushing legislation called AgJobs, which would have given illegal-alien farmworkers a path to citizenship. Under Feinstein-Craig, sheep herders, goat herders and dairy workers would receive a path to citizenship, but the overwhelming majority of illegal-alien workers would only be permitted to remain in the United States for five years. That is what advocates of the legislation are saying. But if past experience is any indication, in five years, the “temporary” amnesty will become permanent, after members of Congress hear complaints from agribusiness groups and farmworkers’ unions that it would be unfair to grant amnesty to one group of illegals while denying it to another. And if open-borders advocates control Congress or the presidency, there will undoubtedly be efforts to allow farmworkers to bring their families to the United States after five years.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Feinstein-Craig measure is the fact that it was attached to an emergency bill funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that if the funds are not approved by Memorial Day, the Defense Department would have to delay paychecks beginning June 15. Although the Bush administration has yet to say whether such a provision would trigger a veto of the war-funding bill, it could well make it impossible for the measure to pass the Senate. It was less than one year ago that the Senate went through a wrenching debate over amnesty for illegal aliens and rejected it — with the majority of Senate Republicans joining freshman Democratic lawmakers including Sens. Jim Webb (Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Jon Tester (Montana) in killing it. The Feinstein-Craig amendment should be stripped from the war-funding measure. They are two issues that should be addressed by separate legislation. Funding the war is an urgent matter. Measuring yeas and neas on amnesty is not.

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