by Gary D. Halbert May 29, 2007 Introduction You are no doubt aware by now that the Senate is proposing a sweeping new immigration bill that has the potential to grant amnesty to the estimated 12 to 20 million illegal, undocumented aliens who presently live and work in the US. The proposed new immigration bill is fraught with problems, especially for conservatives who oppose amnesty for those who broke the law to enter this country, and even some liberals and Hispanic groups are opposed to it. Leaders of the Democratic Party are pushing the new immigration bill along as they see an opportunity to grab a huge new constituency, as it is widely believed that most of the 12-20 million illegal aliens who eventually vote would vote for the Democrats. It is a safe bet to assume that these new citizens will be anxious to cast their votes as soon as possible. So, the Democrats are pushing the new immigration bill, despite its consequences. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have also come out in favor of this new immigration bill. Supposedly, the new bill would provide for greater border security and halt the flood of undocumented workers coming across our borders. But these provisions would take years to enact, if in fact they are ever really implemented. Never mind the enormous cost that will be required to implement them. Those who support the new immigration bill apparently believe that most of the illegal aliens now in the US would return to their home countries, as is supposedly required, file the necessary immigration paperwork and pay fines and fees ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. But how many of the 12-20 million illegals, who are working here today, whose children are attending public schools, will really go home and/or pay the fine? Far less than half, I would estimate. In the pages that follow, I will discuss the new immigration bill in some detail and point out why I hope this new legislation does not pass. If the new bill does pass the Senate, which is questionable, it then goes to the House where it is estimated that President Bush will have to garner at least 70 Republican votes for it to pass. That is a tall order, but stranger things have happened. America's Immigration Crisis We all know that America has a horrific illegal immigration problem, perhaps the worst in the world. Between 12 and 20 million undocumented workers currently reside in the US. Every year, hundreds of thousands more enter the US illegally, many from Mexico, to seek greater economic and educational opportunity, and I for one do not blame them for wanting to come to America. After all, for many America is the "shining city on a hill." We are a country of immigrants, a great melting pot. The plaque on the Statue of Liberty reminds us "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..." Legal immigration is not our problem; rather, it is indeed one of our strengths. It is massive and overwhelming ILLEGAL immigration that is our problem - a crisis actually. It is a problem that will eventually wreck the social welfare system and likely cripple the US economy. Something must be done. But what? The truth is, there is no easy solution. I do agree with those who say it would be virtually impossible to round up and deport 12-20 million illegals, not to mention the economic impacts of such an effort. So, I don't claim to have the answer. What I do know is that everything we have tried in the recent past to solve the illegal immigration problem has not worked, and that the current proposed legislation will be as ineffective and harmful as prior attempts, if not more so. Past Efforts To Fix Immigration The best-known recent effort to "fix" immigration was the 1986 amnesty instituted by President Reagan. Many of the same arguments were made then as now. At the time, there were an estimated four to five million undocumented workers in the US. Then, as now, we were told that it would be next to impossible to round them all up and deport them. Looking back on it, maybe we should have done just that. So in 1986, Reagan declared amnesty for these undocumented workers, pardoned them for having committed a crime, and set them on the path toward legal, tax paying citizenship. Many conservatives were outraged, as was I. President Reagan justified his action by arguing that it was better to get these undocumented workers identified and have them start paying into the system. Sound familiar? Reagan also promised that the amnesty would be accompanied by greatly increased security at our borders and predicted that the vast majority of future immigrants would be legal. Nice idea, in theory, but in reality it was a disaster! When it became known that the president was declaring amnesty, a tidal wave of undocumented workers flooded the US. And why not? This was far easier than going through the standard legal channels (which is part of the problem). What increase in border security there was as a result, was both too little and too late. Given that the undocumented workers currently in the US are estimated to be 12-20 million, amnesty clearly does not work as I will discuss below. To his credit, President Reagan at least had the courage to call it what it was - amnesty - as opposed to the political sham of the current immigration proposal. The New Immigration Bill In an effort to be as unbiased as possible about this new immigration bill, here are excerpts of the highlights as published by the New York Times on May 22: QUOTE: The compromise bill that emerged last Thursday from weeks of closed-door discussions among Senate leaders [with Senator Kennedy as the chief author] and two cabinet secretaries -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- was more than 300 pages long. It is an ambitious package made up of interlocking components intended to work together to create a new immigration system that will secure the nation's borders, provide a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, halt illegal immigration in the future, reduce backlogs for immigrants who have waited to settle in the United States legally, and offer a temporary work force of skilled and unskilled workers for employers in the future. Following is a breakdown of what the bill does, and where critics have said it falls short: BORDER SECURITY AND TRIGGERS. The bill would greatly toughen border enforcement, eventually doubling the Border Patrol to 28,000 agents. Several border enforcement measures, known as triggers, must be in place before a temporary worker program can begin, and before illegal immigrants can gain their first legal visas. The triggers include installation of at least 370 miles of border fence and 200 miles of vehicle barriers. For another trigger, the Department of Homeland Security must create a new, fraudproof system to verify the legal status of all job applicants. Penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants would be greatly increased, to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $75,000 and even jail for repeat offenses. Department officials estimated it would take 18 months to put the triggers in place. The criticism: Border enforcement is not especially controversial. But employers say it is not realistic to expect that the new employee verification system will be ready in 18 months. LEGALIZING IMMIGRANTS. The bill proposes a new kind of visa, a Z visa, for immigrants who were in the United States before Jan. 1, 2007, without legal papers. In a first stage, to begin six months after the bill became law, illegal immigrants would come forward to register with the Department of Homeland Security. Registration would be confidential, department officials said, and would be open for a one-year period. Once registered, immigrants would be on probation -- they could work legally but would not be able to travel freely outside the United States. In a second stage, after the triggers were in place, former illegal immigrants could complete their applications for Z visas, paying penalties. A family of four immigrants, for example, would have to pay fines and fees of at least $4,500. Administration officials said these could be paid in installments. Illegal immigrants' immediate family members who are already in the United States would qualify for Z visas, but they could not bring any family members from home. They can travel outside the United States and, after paying a $1,500 fee, renew the Z visa once every four years. After eight years, once the backlog of legal immigrant petitions is cleared, Z visa holders could apply to become legal permanent residents. They would have to show that they spoke English and pay an additional $4,000 fine. They would also have to return to their home countries to file the application for permanent status, but would not have to remain there while it was in process. It would take at least 13 years for a former illegal immigrant to become a United States citizen. The criticism: Many Republicans reject this program as an amnesty that rewards immigrants who broke the law. Grass-roots immigrant groups and lawyers who support granting legal status have assailed the fines as too high for working families. The bill's authors argue that the cost is less than what immigrants are now paying smugglers, or coyotes, to bring them across the border. The requirement that applicants for permanent residence return home first is an unfair hardship for people from distant countries like China and the Philippines, said Marshall Fitz, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.