April 6, 2006

Breaking: Senate Compromises On Immigration Reform

Hatched by Dafydd

In a shocking example of comity, the Senate -- including most Democrats -- appears to have coalesced around the compromise bill of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; the Democrats appear to have dropped their objections both to the "no felony convictions" rule for citizenship, and also to the lack of guaranteed re-entry for those illegals who have been here less than two years: they're still obliged to return to their countries of origin and apply for readmission, but under this bill, they can be denied for any of a number of reasons.

What may have turned the Senate around is the decisive, crushing rejection of the original McCain-Kennedy-Spector bill passed out of the J-Com. In the vote to end debate (cloture vote on a filibuster), the bill needed to get 60 votes. It garnered 39, less than two-thirds what it needed. In fact, in a bipartisan mauling of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Edward Kennedy (D-Margaritaville), 60 senators voted against ending debate.

Voting against cloture were all 55 Republicans (including co-sponsors McCain and Specter) and five Democrats, who stiffed their own party boss, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace): Robert Byrd (WV), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Kent Conrad (ND), and Byron Dorgan (ND). Of this group, only Sen. Dorgan is not running for reelection this year... and he may have felt obliged to support his fellow NoDak, Kent Conrad, who is.

Slipping a bit on the bloodstained Senate floor, Reid then rushed to express support, late last night, for the Frist bill; as Big Lizards predicted late last night (early this morning, for you sun people), "this is one of those rare occasions where both sides really do want a bill."

As we noted, the Frist bill is almost the same as the one rejected, except for introducing a three-part classification of illegals:

  1. Those here five years or more need not return to their home countries; they can apply for guaranteed legal status in situ (after paying back taxes, paying a fine, and only if they can show they have continuously worked -- no welfare, I think this means -- and if they don't have any felony convictions already). This group comprises about 60% of the 11 million - 12 million illegals, according to Dr. Sen. Frist, or 6.6 to 7.2 millions.
  2. Those here between two and five years do have to return to their countries of origin and apply for readmission; but they are guaranteed re-entry if they meet the requirements above. I have seen no figures on how big a percent this group is of the remainder.
  3. Those here less than two years have to return (if they want legal status), but they are not guaranteed re-entry. If they don't, they're subject to deportation (if caught).

We're not particularly happy about that last category; the most likely response is that most of those in Camp Three won't return or legalize at all. But since the bill also heavily increases border security -- I'm sure there is a virtual fence, and I think the bill authorizes a physical fence across some of the southern border, but don't hold my feet to the grindstone on that one -- and also coils like an anaconda around businesses that hire illegals, it will be significantly more difficult for illegals to operate here with the sort of impunity they have enjoyed for decades.

This could actually work... because in addition to a fence (virtual or physical), and in addition to regularizing those already here, the bill also sets up a guest worker program for future in-and-outers and clarifies the path to citizenship for future immigrants; this means decent people who want to come here for honest reasons have a legal way to do so -- and therefore no reason to pay a coyote to sneak them past the border.

This takes a lot of the pressure off the system and allows us to vigorously enforce the border laws: when customers with legitimate business can enter through the front door in broad daylight, it's much more acceptable to drop the hammer on people slithering in through the window at night.

The House earlier passed a bill that was all cop and no compassion: straight, heavy-handed border protection, including declaring that those here illegally, however long, were guilty of a felony, and could therefore never become citizens. The House version didn't even offer a nod to those who desperately want to become Americans, or even just work here honestly for a while, but who cannot, for various reasons, navigate through the labyrinth of immigration law.

This House bill (or a substitute) will have to be reconciled with the Senate's bill in the joint committee... but House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-IL) has already signalled that it would be possible for the House to support a compromise bill, so long as it also contains tough enforcement measures -- which the current Senate version does.

So we at Big Lizards have very high hopes for this version of immigration reform: it's a solid bill, it has strong backing that is even (I can't believe I'm typing this word) bipartisan; and the president is eager to sign it.

This will go a long way towards allowing the Republicans to do well in the November elections. If nothing else, they can point to this major bill, the most significant immigration reform in two decades (and a lot better than Reagan's amnesty program, since this bill is not amnesty -- except for those right-wingers who redefine the word "amnesty" the way lefties redefine "civil war"). I presume they'll also confirm a few more conservative judges and will probably vote to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. That presents a flurry of action on issues important to Republicans and will bring them out to vote.

The senators finally stopped "foaming at the mouth" and got down to brokering a deal. Good job, fellows!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 6, 2006, at the time of 3:04 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I've linked from Senate to America: Assume a compromising position. Smile! I don't guess it will surprise you that I'm not as happy with today's developments as you are. At least there's still hope for the House.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 6:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


OK, but how do we verify how long undocumented workers (as illegal aliens are sometimes called) have been here? After all, they are "undocumented".

In order to show that they've worked the whole time, we would probably have to rely on employment records. For some, that shouldn't be a problem, because the employer was truly "fooled" by the fake Social Security number and other fake documents needed to fill out an I-9.

But what about the millions working in the underground economy, where the employer doesn't even ask for a SS number? That would encompass many (most?) domestic workers, lots of farm workers, and probably many others. The immigrants were here illegally, so what did it matter to them if they worked for people who accepted fake information or for those who just didn't ask? Are they just out of luck? Do they turn in their scofflaw employers (who might be tempted to lie, because the penalties are very stiff)?

I suppose we'd have to use other means. Plane or bus tickets (for the few that would have them) wouldn't do, because there's no guarantee the illegal stayed here working the whole time. Testimony of friends or co-workers? I dunno, I’ll have to see the final version to know how our brilliant Senators have devised a foolproof way to precisely measure those 2 and 5 year cutoffs. After all, if you’re on the borderline, being a day off can throw you into a different category.

Another thing: What does “paying back taxes” mean? Just Social Security? What about the employer’s share? (Paid by whom? If by the former employer, what if he’s dead and left no assets?) What if the employer collected and remitted Social Security tax but reported it under a bogus number provided by the employee? What if the number was actually valid, but belonged to someone else, whose account has already been credited with the tax dollars and earnings? I could go on. (But you already know that.)

Income tax would probably present fewer issues, but it would be a field day for H&R Schlock and their ilk. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself -- I’m a CPA.)

The devil is, indeed, in the details. I’ll save my huzzahs for our illustrious legislators until after we have fully parsed the final product.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 6:48 PM

The following hissed in response by: Polimom

Shocked though I was to find us in agreement, it is what it is.

I linked, also, from The long-lost voice of reason soundeth? Maybe.

The above hissed in response by: Polimom [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 7:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Dick E:

OK, but how do we verify how long undocumented workers (as illegal aliens are sometimes called) have been here? After all, they are "undocumented".

They ain't that undocumented. For example, they still get mail, including bills; billing records dating back eight years would be pretty good evidence.

Then again, many have fake ID cards -- on which businesses have withheld real money from real aliens, both for FICA and, if the job pays enough, for income tax as well; those tax records would also prove length of residence.

Too, there is the chance of believable eyewitness testimony... for example, the local Catholic priest, who baptized the alien's first child six years ago, according to parish records.

How do you prove anything anymore? You present documentation. Some aliens will successfully fake having been here for longer than five years; that is a 100% certainty. Others will actually have been here longer than five years but be unable to provide enough documentation to prove it: so it goes. By and large, when somebody registers, the available record will show how long he has been here.

But you needn't worry, because I'm sure it's up to the illegal to prove how long he was here. If he's lived here for ten years but can't prove more than two, then he's in in the 2-5 year category... and too bad for him.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 9:47 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Dick E:

What if the employer collected and remitted Social Security tax but reported it under a bogus number provided by the employee?

Then the employee has paid into the Social Security system but won't get any credit for it. Tough.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 9:52 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Ugh. Count me as one who considers this an Amnesty: The guys who have been flouting our laws the longest get the easiest path to stay? As Tancredo says, "I can hear the presses rolling now!" People currently living in Mexico and England are getting tickets to fly here next month, and for the price of a cheap used car they get into the express-line for a Green Card that has been denied to them for perhaps years...

Does anybody even REMEMBER the millions of folks who are in the backlog attempting to work their ways through the labyrinth of our Immigration System LEGALLY? Boy have WE played THEM for suckers! All they have to do is get here and figure out a way to 'document' their history; forget all of those other regulations...

And I'm sure the USCIS will check all those documents verrrry carefully... :sigh: You may think that this is a positive step Dafyyd, but I think that it is not only a slap in the face of those obeying OUR RULES AND LAWS... but without any attempt to secure our Borders, it is a tragic step backwards in National Security as well.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 6, 2006 10:42 PM

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