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Wall Street Aug 7th- Imimigration Bill Compromise?
An Immigration Compromise?
August 7, 2006; Page A12
Convinced that a hard line on border security spells victory in November, Republicans in Congress are traipsing the country this summer stoking fears of an illegal alien invasion. In such an environment, we're happy to see at least a few conservative Members trying to talk the party down from the ledge.
GOP Representative Mike Pence of Indiana has been pushing an immigration compromise that he hopes will end the stand-off between the House, which has passed a bill focusing entirely on enforcement, and the Senate, whose bill combines more security with a guest-worker program.
Last month Mr. Pence announced that Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would co-sponsor the proposal, which combines most of the security provisions of the House bill with a more stringent guest worker program than what's currently in the Senate version. Recall that the Senate legislation would allow most of the estimated 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the U.S. to remain as guest workers and pursue permanent residency if they pass criminal background checks, pay fines and back taxes, and learn English.
Despite those requirements, restrictionists have denounced the Senate bill as "amnesty" -- a label that the Pence-Hutchison proposal is eager to duck. To that end, their plan would require illegal aliens in the U.S. to return home first and apply for a guest-worker visa from their country of origin. The applications would be processed at so-called "Ellis Island Centers" located abroad and managed by U.S.-owned private employment agencies.
We like the idea of involving private entities and introducing market incentives to the process. The private sector could hardy do worse than the overburdened and bureaucratic Citizen and Immigration Services (formerly the INS) that currently handles newcomers.
And to its credit, the Pence-Hutchison proposal also includes a realistic path to citizenship, even if the path is too lengthy. Under the plan, a guest-worker visa would be renewable for up to 17 years, at which time the visa holder would have the option of remaining a guest worker indefinitely or becoming a full U.S. citizen. Even better, the number of available visas would be determined by market demand. This is important because a major driver of illegal immigration is the dearth of U.S. visas dispensed each year.
A path to citizenship is also vital. Other proposals allow immigrant workers to remain in the U.S. indefinitely but keep them in a sort of permanent second-tier status while waiting for a green card that will never come. Pence-Hutchison implicitly acknowledges that it's wrong to demand that these mostly Latino immigrants assimilate but then deny them any realistic chance of becoming full-fledged participants in U.S. society.
The Pence-Hutchison requirement that illegal immigrants apply for guest-worker status from their home countries seems overly burdensome, though Mr. Pence surely feels the hurdle is necessary to mollify the "no amnesty" crowd. These foreigners play an important role in our economy, and forcing them to return home could cause all manner of labor disruptions. The same background checks and fines could as easily be issued on U.S. soil.
A return-home-first requirement also probably means fewer illegals would participate. Most of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. have been here longer than five years; many are married to U.S. citizens or have American children. And while they might be enticed out of the shadows to normalize their status at a facility in the U.S., they may decide that a trip "home" is too risky and not worth it.
Another problem with Pence-Hutchison is its requirement that "the first two years after enactment . . . be dedicated to border security, and at the two-year point, if all criteria for the certification have been satisfied . . . the temporary worker program will begin." This gets it backwards, given that immigration reform is an integral part of securing the border. Only by first reducing the economic incentive to cross illegally will the flow of migrants fall enough to make the borders more "secure."
These objections aside, we'd consider it progress if the House and Senate ever reached the point of discussing these details. And thanks to Representative Pence and Senator Hutchison, there's still a chance that might happen. First, however, they must convince their GOP colleagues that voters would prefer a solution to divisive rhetoric. That will be a tough sell, especially without the help of Democrats who are only too happy to use the stalemate as a campaign issue in November.
Meanwhile, Republican House leaders have announced that they'll spend the rest of the summer holding more immigration "hearings" like the one last month titled, "Should We Embrace the Senate's Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?" That sounds more like a Lou Dobbs ratings ploy than a GOP interested in compromise.
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