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Why Immigration Reform Is The Panama Canal Treaty Redux

I’m pretty sure it was my first Washington mentor, the great M. Stanton Evans, who told me—and perhaps originated—the famous story of a senior Senate aide explaining American democracy to a Russian visitor shortly after the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991.  The story is probably apocryphal, but like Xenophon’s re-telling of Cyrus the Great, or Machiavelli’s subtle mis-tellings of so many stories, it contains the “effectual truth” of the matter:

It’s true, we have a two-party system in America: The Evil Party, and the Stupid Party.  And every once and a while the Evil Party and the Stupid Party get together to pass something really evil and stupid.  That’s called “bipartisanship.”

It would seem the perfect description of the Gang of Eight and immigration reform.  Please save us from bipartisan gangs.

Stan also taught me that whenever you hear about a bad piece of legislation under development in Congress, when you actually read the bill you invariably find out that it’s even worse than you imagined.  So Stan’s column a few days ago (I don’t have a link) notes:

On first appraisal, the amnesty/immigration bill before the Senate looks pretty bad.  On a more careful comb-through, clause by clause, it looks much worse – like a complete disaster.  It also looks like a massive venture in deception. . .

Quite apart from Rubio‘s bilingual double talk, the bill itself says in so many words that a lack of border security is expected by its sponsors, since provision is made for that very outcome.  The legislation says that if, five years out, the border is not secure, a special commission will be set up to look into the matter (a commission that, on the language of the bill, would be toothless).

Also, even if border security could somehow be established, that wouldn’t remedy the countless defects of the legislation.  It is shot through with provisos that would swell the number of aliens on a “path to citizenship” to three or four times the 11 million illegals now in the country (if that is in fact the true number) .  Most obvious of these are “chain immigration” aspects that will bring in and legalize the spouses and children of illegals, but there are many others of like nature.

One such is a “blue card” (temporary, eight- year) work visa, which might not be a problem in itself, but links to other features.  Once here, these workers could qualify for “provisional” immigrant status, just like the illegals, and thus get on the citizenship pathway also. Further, if a future illegal gets apprehended, he can escape removal by requesting “blue card” status for up to two and a half years after the rule is final. Thus, hesto-presto, would future illegals be made legal.

The bill is otherwise riddled with clauses that would help illegals avoid removal, get into the country to begin with, seek “provisional” status, apply for naturalization, ask stays of judgment, and game the system in general.  One of the words appearing most often in the bill is “waiver,” closely followed by “appeals,” “stays,” “reviews” and “exceptions” : A thicket of legalisms that could  and undoubtedly would  be used to thwart enforcement.

It’s of course unlikely that a Spanish-speaking immigrant who walks across the border from Mexico would know anything of these legal complexities, but the drafters have foreseen that problem also.  The bill sets up a fund, amounting to $50 million (with more money to be added as needed), to represent illegals in every phase of the process – seeking provisional immigration status, filing appeals, blocking efforts at deportation, obtaining naturalization, and so on.

I’m actually in favor of some sensible immigration reforms, and believe the GOP could handle this issue in a way that would make liberals howl (start with including some anti-multicultural poison pills in the law, and then debate the matter openly).  But increasingly this bill looks to me that it is this decade’s equivalent of the Panama Canal treaty of 1977: if it passes, it is going to end several political careers, starting with Rubio’s.  Howard Baker’s Panama Canal treaty vote not only killed his presidential ambitions, but also eliminated him from serious consideration to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980.

The failure of the farm bill in the House the other day is, however, a good omen.  I think it is possible that that vote was really about immigration reform—a shot across the bow of House leadership that they can’t be counted upon to go along unless the bill is completely changed, and that Boehner will fight for the House version in a conference committee.

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