Senate Bill Puts Citizenship Up for Sale

The Senate is currently considering legislation that would, among other things, sell citizenship to illegal immigrants for the modest price of $2,000. All Americans should take offense.

The immigration reform bill in question amounts to a massive blanket amnesty which would allow the 12 million illegal aliens currently in the United States to seek citizenship without even returning to their home country. Cautious to avoid the stigma of "amnesty," however, the bill’s defenders have erected an assortment of weak obstacles to absolutely unfettered citizenship.  This is simply window dressing.

Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), the architect of the bill’s guest worker program, argues that "this is not amnesty" because illegal aliens would pay two $1,000 fines over a six year period, pay taxes, submit to a background check, and learn English before attaining "earned legalization." All of this verbiage amounts to obfuscation.

As Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa) recently said, "If it looks, acts and smells like amnesty, then it is amnesty." He’s right, but the snake oil salesmen peddling this bill are unable to speak as plainly.

Like the amnesty of 1986 which pardoned 3 million illegal immigrants, and the amnesty of the mid-1990s which legalized millions more, what historians will one day call the "Amnesty Act of 2006" promises to sanction, reward, and encourage more illegal behavior. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same action over and over and expecting a different result. His words are applicable.

Ultimately, this debate is not just about access to cheap labor. It is about the security of America’s borders, our right to national sovereignty, and our national security in a post-9/11 world. Nearly five years after the terrorist attacks, our borders remain woefully insecure. And while our Mexican neighbors seeking work in America pose no national security or terrorist threat, our porous southern border has become our nation’s soft underbelly. An open border cannot distinguish between a migrant seeking opportunity and a terrorist intent on doing us harm. We cannot afford this perpetual state of lawlessness.

Our government’s first obligation is to protect and defend the American people and their Constitution. Yet our laws are flouted with contempt and our borders are mocked as irrelevant. The Senate’s response? Continue to reside in the country you entered illegally, pay some fines, and maybe learn some English before becoming an American citizen. Those who have waited in line to legally become citizens should continue to wait. This is unfair.  America has always been and should remain a beacon for legal immigrants.

Significant upgrades in border patrol manpower and infrastructure are conspicuously absent from the Senate bill. So is a more rigid internal enforcement mechanism to stop employers from hiring illegals. The Senate should first resolve how to secure and acquire operational control over our borders before venturing into the complexities of immigration reform. Seeking immigration reform without border security is a fruitless endeavor — like trying to build a house before completing the foundation.  We cannot create a framework for more legal immigration until our laws and territorial integrity are first respected. The current bill is all carrot and no stick.

And the American people are justifiably upset. If this Senate immigration bill becomes law, the political consequences for Republicans will be almost as devastating as the policy implications would be for America. Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose granting temporary worker status to illegal immigrants. And 62 percent oppose easing the path to citizenship. Facing a tough election cycle this year, Republicans are not helping themselves by supporting a wildly unpopular and Democratic-crafted amnesty bill that is rejected by a majority of Americans and a supermajority of Republicans.

Republicans are frittering away what could be their last opportunity to show leadership on a crucial national issue before November. They have been completely outmaneuvered. Instead of uniting the country around border security and splitting the Democratic coalition, Republicans have succeeded in dividing their own party and will soon unite the nation against their unpopular amnesty bill.

It didn’t have to be this way. Senate Republicans and the administration could have worked to build consensus on the divisive immigration reform issue, rallied the GOP base with tougher border security legislation based more closely on the House bill, and driven a wedge between Big Labor and Democrats.  Hypersensitivity, or insensitivity, to Hispanic opinion fueled this political miscalculation. It is factually wrong, and insulting, to think that Hispanics support illegal behavior and would punish Republicans at the polls for taking a hard line on border enforcement.

There is still a broad national consensus which supports tougher border security policies and opposes easing the path to citizenship for illegals. Republicans would be wise to tackle one problem at a time by focusing on border enforcement first, and the important question of immigration reform second. Both are essential to maintaining an open society based on the rule of law and legal immigration. That’s not just sensible policy, but great politics.