This is a story about what might have been. It is irrelevant insofar as Congress did not act in a responsible manner. In a rushed vote last week, the bill was defeated in the Senate.
A joint effort by the White House, Homeland Security, some Democrats, and some Republicans had produced an immigration reform bill. My compliments to Senators Kennedy and Kyl, who headed up the effort, for statesman-like behavior. If you doubt that a form of this bill is needed, here are a few facts to ponder. The official estimate of the number of illegal aliens in this country is twelve million. An unofficial figure quoted to me, very off-the-record by a source in Homeland Security, is double that or 24 million. Last month our border patrol caught almost 106,000 more aliens trying to cross the border. A guess of how many were not caught varies between fifty and a hundred thousand. My source also said that most of those who were caught were Mexicans while most of those who were not caught were not Mexicans. Just as many aliens enter through our northern border and airports, not to mention our coasts, as those who cross our southern border. For that matter, most illegal aliens are probably not Mexican. They are the most visible element because many Hispanics are tagged as Mexicans. With over twelve million illegal aliens regularly working in our economy, their absence would cause an economic collapse. Their absence would also cause us to endure an awful lot of inconvenience.
It can be said that we have a problem.
The actual bill that was produced runs 370 pages in length. In all honesty, the language needed to be cleaned up in some sections. There are about a dozen sections where I could not figure out what was meant or even what they were talking about. More sinister were sections which contradicted earlier sections, hence they made no sense. Is there an English teacher available to edit these mistakes?
Several commentators have stated that all these illegal aliens should be thrown in jail and then deported. At $29,000 a head per year in jail, the cost alone makes this proposal absurd. The logistics of a mass deportation would screw up our transportation system for over a year and cost a fortune. For some of these people an American jail is a better standard of living than their homeland.
Having said all this, it is time to look at the bill itself. The main thrust of the bill is that the illegal immigrants who have been here for two years have to go through a process that would eventually lead to full citizenship. Those who have been here two years and have no criminal record would pay a $1,000 fine. The head of a family would also pay a fine of $4,000 and have to go back to their country of origin and file papers in order to be readmitted. By doing this they would be granted a Z visa making them legal. Then they would be on the road to full citizenship. That process could take up to eleven years. A complicated system of merit points would be awarded for English proficiency and work skills that are needed here, thus shortening the process. In all it is a long and tedious process, not to mention expensive. Add in transportation costs and legal fees and it comes to close to ten thousand dollars a head in costs for each immigrant. The fines would bring in about a hundred billion dollars in revenue. The big question is, how many people can afford this? The whole touchback scheme comes across as a bureaucratic nightmare. One wonders if this process will coax the millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows.
Seasonal farm workers would be granted Y visas with a cap of 400,000 people a year, this depending on need. The catch is that these workers would only be allowed to work two years in a row then would have to take a year off. In addition, the quota of highly skilled entrants who already have job offers, now covered under the H1-B program, will have their cap raised by 100,000. The current H1-B quota was filled in a day, as it is every year. The fee for one of these visas, paid by the employer, will be raised to $5,000. These immigrants will be on a fast track for citizenship.
There is a provision for building miles of better border fences and beefing up the border patrol by 18,000 agents. Without this, this whole exercise would have been pointless. There is also a section of the law that increases the penalties for hiring illegal aliens. Compliance costs will be a burden to small businesses. There is no mandate for a national identification card but there is one for an electronic data base.
This bill is a not going to become a law. It was defeated on June 8th in a rushed vote in Congress. The issue was complicated by the upcoming election cycle in which we will see political posturing and some demagoguery. It was defeated by a bipartisan coalition which included nativist bigotry, special interest pleadings, an elevation of bad existing laws to sanctified morality, and a good dose of cynical political strategizing. While this bill was flawed in many ways it did make an effort to do something about a national problem that has been allowed to get out of hand over the past twenty years. There will be a wave of finger pointing and blaming which is what our elected officials seem to think is a fine substitute for governance.
A recent CBS-NY TIMES poll indicated that 70% of all Americans are in favor of some sort of reform of the immigration laws. They should speak out to the elected officials. The bill can be resubmitted and improved. With any amount of luck some sort of bill will become an Immigration Reform Law within the next year. If this does not happen, the current situation will continue as it is for at least three more years.
The situation will not get better.