Immigration Bill 101

Breaking down the bill that is stirring up so much controversy.

The immigration bill being debated in the Senate is the product of Harry Reid's (D-NV) office, which has been the key power broker of participation-hence the role of Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and others close to Reid's rise to leadership. More recently, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has joined in pushing for bipartisan passage.

It is not the "President's Bill", although he has certainly endorsed it. It is a product of Congress. Specifically, it reflects the particular philosophical and economic values of the Senate coalition behind the bill and of those who have amended it (and continue to amend it).

The key balancing fulcrum is between Kennedy-who has long favored amnesty for illegal immigrants-and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) who, until recently, had opposed amnesty.

The bill's formal name is Senate Bill 1639, "The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007." Since the bipartisan group of Senators represents the full political spectrum, it's not surprising that the title incorporates terms that capture the goals of all. Mainstream America, and especially politically conservative voters, are hoping that the result will improve border security, so that is the lead term. Secure borders will certainly be necessary, as the economic opportunity provided through the amnesty and generous guest worker provisions will undoubtedly motivate many more people to attempt to enter the United States illegally and await their opportunity to gain amnesty.

The bill's declared purpose is "To provide for comprehensive immigration reform and for other purposes", and some of the other purposes are very far from immigration reform. An entire title VIII is added to address those purposes, most of which have to do with a European-American Commission to examine the enumerated misdeeds of the United States during World War II toward Italians and Germans who were U.S. residents subject to internment, and Jews fleeing Hitler who were denied entry as refugees-by no means inappropriate.

Effective Triggers as a Prelude to Amnesty
Title I requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify that a set of benchmarks have been met before the guest worker programs (Title IV) and the expansive amnesty programs (Title VI) for people already illegally resident in the United States can be activated. There is a huge exception, however, as "temporary amnesty", also known as "probationary Z status", is effective upon enactment (when the President signs the bill) for Z workers, also known as illegal immigrants. Title I also includes authorities and resources to augment border security, much of which could be alternatively authorized under presidential directives had the President chosen to more rigorously strengthen border security prior to this bill.

The date triggers are interesting to those who champion amnesty, but they stand the risk of becoming irrelevant once the process of issuing probationary Z status to the millions of illegal aliens begins. That process will have its own momentum, and once there are four or five million "probationary Z workers" signed up with Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration offices, immense political pressure will be generated. There are still "dormant" enforcement laws on the books from the 1986 amnesty, especially provisions to use the power of the Internal Revenue Service to identify, investigate and penalize employers of illegal workers. The IRS employer sanction requirements were to be implemented by a 1989 deadline, and 18 years later, the IRS is still working on a final draft of the regulations. So much for the executive branch enforcing the law.

Date Triggers
The Secure Borders part of the bill is front and center in Title I. The "key" trigger requirement to be met is Provision (1): "OPERATIONAL CONTROL OF THE INTERNATIONAL BORDER WITH MEXICO.-The Secretary of Homeland Security has established and demonstrated operational control of 100 percent of the international land border between the United States and Mexico, including the ability to monitor such border through available methods and technology."

This provision deserves a hard look, because with a term as intangible as "operational control", victory can be declared at any time without metrics to substantiate that claim. The Border Security precondition for amnesty is further delineated, as Title I requires the secretary to certify that certain benchmarks have been met before the guest worker programs in Title IV and the programs in Title VI begin. However, a very large exception is made for the admission of aliens with foreign-student status wishing to change visa status to gain U.S. employment and probationary Z status for Z workers is effective with enactment.

The president has been pitching support for the senate bill, and pundits note that, under the bill, people caught crossing the border illegally will be permanently barred from returning to the United States on a work or tourist visa. Those known to have taken part in illegal gang activity can be denied admission and aliens who are dangerous criminals can be detained until another country accepts them.1 Guess what? The existing Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), together with other federal criminal statutes already provides equivalent statutes! However, the approach taken by the bill is intended to ensure that a degree of stronger border security takes place before the amnesty and expanded guest worker provisions pick up speed.