Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) can’t say how many new immigrants will be allowed to enter the United States over the next 20 years as a result of the immigration reform bill he shepherded through the Senate last month.
“I can’t give you an accurate number,” Frist said. “I know that about 2 million are coming across illegally and I would hope that we could diminish that.”
In fairness to Frist, he is not alone. None of the bill’s supporters we spoke with last week could say exactly how many new immigrants the bill allows.
“There are different estimates out there, and we’re trying to get the best data we can get. We don’t have that yet,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), who voted for the bill.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation (see May 22 Human Events cover story) estimated the bill would allow 66 million new immigrants into the country over the next 20 years.
When Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), who also voted for the bill, was asked about the Heritage Foundation estimate, he agreed that the bill would “add a number of people [but] I don’t know if that’s the number.” He added that he had “no numbers to compete with [Rector’s].”
Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), by contrast, disputed the Heritage study, calling it “grossly exaggerated.”
20 Million Illegals
McCain, one of the lead sponsors of the legislation, said the bill would put up to 11 million illegal immigrants on the “path to earned citizenship.” But he did not offer his own estimate of the total number of new immigrants the bill would allow over 20 years.
The Heritage study, he said, was “on the most extreme edge.”
But if a study published in January 2005 by asset management firm Bear Stearns is correct, the Heritage estimate could be on the low side. The Heritage Study was based on an analysis of the impact of chain migration by parents, children and siblings of the illegal aliens who would be regularized by the bill, assuming that there are now 11.9 million illegal aliens in the U.S. However, authors Betty Ng and Robert Justich of Bear Stearns estimated there are already 20 million illegal immigrants in the country.
Ng and Justich arrived at 20 million in part by analyzing remittances from the U.S. to Mexico, which tripled between 1995 and 2003. They also calculated the number of housing permits and elementary school enrollments in areas with high illegal immigrant populations.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska), who also voted for the bill, would not say how many new immigrants it would let into the U.S., saying instead that Rector had made “a bunch of assumptions which I think are incorrect.”
Stevens said the current bill differs from the 1986 immigration reform, viewed by many as an amnesty. “I think the difference now is we’re going out of our way to close the border.” Plus, Stevens said, “There’s many reasons for the Mexican people not to come to the United States,” referring to the improved economic situation of Mexico.
The ongoing flow of illegal immigrants, however, does not confirm Stevens’ assessment. A September 2005 study from the Pew Hispanic Center said America’s foreign-born population, legal and illegal, “reaches new highs each year.”
Kirk A. Johnson, also of the Heritage Foundation, described the bill as a “road to amnesty” for most illegal immigrants. According to Johnson, the bill would put all but those immigrants who have been here less than two years (who are a mere 15% of estimated illegal aliens) on the “path to citizenship.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) described the number of people the bill would let in as “sort of a moving target.”
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins also voted for the bill but says she doesn’t know “the bottom line figure” of how many new immigrants it will allow. “If you look at Sen. Bingaman’s (D.-N.M.) analysis versus the Heritage versus the sponsors of the bill, you get three very different figures,” Collins said.
Collins disagrees with Rector’s assessment but says one of the problems facing the Senate is that they “don’t have a firm grasp on what the implications are of the bill, as amended.”
Rector argued that by allowing 66 million new immigrants to enter the U.S. over the next 20 years the bill would lead to the largest expansion of welfare in 35 years and change the country socially, economically and politically.
The Senate supporters of the bill have mustered no solid arguments to counter him.
As Collins said of the bill’s potential effects, “I think it’s an area where we need to do more work.”