We wrote here and here about reports that Democrats will try to rush an immigration bill through the Senate without substantial debate or even, as they prefer, without giving anyone an opportunity to read the bill. The bill presumably would be based on the “Gang of 8” plan; we know that Lindsay Graham, for one, wants to speed the bill to approval rather than “leave it hanging out for two weeks to get shot up” by opponents. Or to get read by voters.
Today, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee–Senators Grassley, Hatch, Sessions, Cornyn, Lee and Cruz–wrote a letter to committee chairman Pat Leahy requesting that the committee take time to deliberate any immigration bill that may be offered. They begin by noting the same news reports that we commented on a week ago, and then outline a powerful case for reasonable deliberation:
Dear Chairman Leahy:
We write regarding your statement at the March 12, 2013, Executive Business Meeting that the Committee would take up comprehensive immigration reform legislation when the Senate returns from recess in April. We presume this statement was in reference to legislation reportedly being drafted by the “gang of eight” Senators.
As you are aware, this bill potentially could be the most dramatic and consequential alteration of our immigration system in nearly 30 years, impacting nearly every aspect of our legal and economic structure, and increasing entitlement spending to historic levels. Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act was first introduced in the Senate in 1982, the Committee had 100 hours of hearings with 300 witnesses before marking up a bill. Congress continued to debate the bill for the next three years, and even then, the Judiciary Committee spent three months reviewing the bill before it was reported in August of 1985. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the public be given adequate time, consistent with past practice in handling complex comprehensive immigration legislation, to read and analyze the contents of any such bill before it is listed on the Committee’s Executive Business Meeting agenda. We further request that during this time, the Committee hold hearings on the overarching issues integral to the legislation.
The Committee has held only one hearing on comprehensive immigration reform on February 13th. While the Committee held a hearing on March 18th regarding the effect of reform on women and families, and a hearing is scheduled for March 20th on American values, we believe that hearings are necessary to examine implementation of the components essential to a workable system, especially given that 43 current members of the Senate were not here during the last debate in 2007. Some of those issues include future flow and a temporary guest worker program; border security metrics and solutions; interior enforcement, including worksite enforcement and employee verification; the impact of a large scale legalization on American workers and taxpayers; and the implementation of a biometric exit system, which the Government Accountability Office has determined to be the only method by which the government can accurately track visa overstays. Moreover, the last Department of Homeland Security Oversight hearing was in April 2012, and members are still waiting for Secretary Napolitano to provide answers to follow-up questions. Members should have the opportunity to question the Secretary on these and other important issues before being asked to cast a vote on such critical legislation.
We believe the process we have set forth is necessary not only to ensure that members are properly educated on this complex measure, but also to ensure a fair and open process so that the American people know what is in any such bill. The last time Congress considered legislation of this magnitude that was written behind closed doors and passed with no process, it resulted in sweeping changes to our healthcare system, the negative consequences of which are only now coming to light. As you have said in the past, if we bring these important issues to the Senate floor without them having been worked through committee, it is a prescription for a real problem.
We do not make this request lightly and hope the Senators drafting such legislation will support our request. If we are serious about protecting our national interest and the best interests of American workers, we must provide all members of the Senate, and, most importantly, the public, a full and fair opportunity to become adequately informed. We believe the process we have described is in keeping with your longstanding commitments to regular order and transparency. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to working with you on this important issue.
The letter is copied to the Gang of 8.
What used to be considered a normal legislative process is completely alien to Democratic rule in Washington. Debate legislation? Forget about it. Amend proposed legislation? Not on your life. Read the bill before we vote on it? No. Allow members of the public to read the bill before we vote on it? Hell, no! If anything constrains the Democrats, it will be public outrage.