BEN BOYCHUK and JOEL MATHIS
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators has crafted a long-sought-after immigration bill, one that strengthens border security while offering a new pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill would require proof that “high-risk border sectors” be sealed off before migrants can begin the process of achieving legal residency.
Are the border security requirements too tough? Does the pathway to residency amount to “amnesty”? RedBlueAmerica columnists Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk debate the issue.
Conservatives have been so stubborn for so long on the issue of immigration, it raises suspicions when some of them suddenly seem ready to sign on for a “bipartisan” bill of any sort.
Yes, Republicans after 2012 are deeply aware of the need to broaden their appeal beyond elderly white voters. But the recent history of this issue — in which GOP members turned their backs on both former President George W. Bush and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain — might make liberals and moderates feel a bit gun-shy.
Indeed, this bill appears to give conservatives what they want (beefed-up border security) while still denying immigrants and their children a chance to get on the right side of the law.
The bill definitely adds $3 billion to the federal budget for border security. But it also requires the federal government to prove that it has turned back 90 percent of all border crossers each year. And, of course, those high-risk border sectors — areas with 30,000 crossings a year — must be sealed off. Only then can immigrants begin to proceed to legal status.
Which means the U.S. could make dramatic improvements in border security, but not dramatic enough to help the people who are already here.
Listen: The U.S. under President Barack Obama has repeatedly set records for the numbers of deportations it carries out. Why? Because the president wanted to get the GOP to the table on an immigration bill. But getting tougher on immigration appears only to have bought him mainly the opportunity to get even tougher on immigration.
The U.S. has a right to secure its borders. But liberals, at least, remember that we’re a nation of immigrants — and feel that we owe new generations of immigrants a chance to work hard and live the American dream, as our parents and grandparents did. More security is fine, but the new bill is no good if it manages to keep undocumented immigrants locked away from a chance to achieve legal status.
Have you read the Senate’s new 844-page immigration bill? That’s fine; nobody has. How about the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators’ 19-page outline of the legislation? It isn’t exactly written in comprehensible English, and it’s brimming with promises clothed in hilariously euphemistic language, but it’s something to work with.
What we learn from the document, as if we didn’t already know, is that bipartisanship is overrated. Congress cannot solve the nation’s immigration problem without erecting a larger, $1.5 billion border fence in exchange for an even larger, less accountable bureaucracy.
The good news is the bill would allow more H-1B visas for skilled, high-tech workers. Employers have been complaining for years about a shortage of skilled labor, so Congress would lift the current cap from 65,000 to as high as 180,000 a year. The bad news is the “reform” would undercut the free market by requiring employers to pay H-1B visa holders considerably higher wages, making them less attractive to hire.
The bill would also establish something called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, which would oversee a new “W-Visa” guest-worker program. The idea is to empower federal bureaucrats to set immigrants’ wages, declare labor shortages, and allocate visas to various industries. It’s a crony capitalist’s dream.
But if the reforms also make the border safer and more secure, couldn’t we live with a bigger bureaucracy? Maybe.
Trouble is, despite promises of billions of additional dollars, the Gang of Eight plan wouldn’t necessarily secure the border at all. It would simply paper over the problem.
The bill makes a big deal of “high-risk sectors” and sets a goal of “90 percent effectiveness” in catching illegal border crossers. But as more than one astute observer has pointed out, it’s impossible to know how many people are crossing illegally. Bureaucrats could simply fudge the numbers. In short, the 90 percent threshold is meaningless.
By making legal immigration more complicated and expensive, and doing little to stop illegal immigration, this bipartisan “grand bargain” turns out to be no bargain at all.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis is a contributing editor to The Philly Post. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or www.facebook.com/benandjoel. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.