Immigration Debate Will Heat Up Come Summer

After blocking off plenty of time to pay off special interests for helping them deliver midterm elections, the Democrats are kicking the illegal immigration can down the legislative road until mid-summer when the weather is warm enough to ensure that hordes of protesters will turn out to support the bill.

Immediately after being swept into power, the Democrats allocated time to debate obscure lobby reform restrictions. Thanks to them, a cottage industry of catering services that serves meals on toothpicks is now available since giving paper-plated food to Hill staffers is one of their “no-no” new rules.  Several non-binding resolutions against the war were then debated before reluctant Blue-Dog Democrats were bought off to support a timetable for withdrawal. Now, it’s time for Big Labor to get their payback with the upcoming card-check bill that will make it easier to organize workplaces through legal, public coercion tactics instead of secret ballots.

Meanwhile, the immigration crisis continues to swell. Temperatures are beginning to rise again and we’ll be treated to another summer season of news footage showing illegal aliens streaming across our borders to attend liberal pro-amnesty rallies.

Congress is planning accordingly for maximum political advantage. The Senate has blocked off the last two weeks of May for debate on a soon-to-be unveiled immigration bill. The House is planning to take up legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D.-Calif.) sometime in July.

The Gutierrez-Flake bill was supposed to move through the House in tandem with a revamped version of the Senate’s amnesty bill written by Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) last year, but the four-way negotiations broke down because of difficulties appeasing Big Labor. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the AFL-CIO are fearful that cheap immigrant labor will threaten their members’ jobs and demanded unachievable wage protections for United States workers in the immigration bill.

This breakdown allowed McCain to pander to immigration hawks at a March 20 event in Iowa while campaigning for the Republican nomination for President. McCain’s sponsorship of an immigration bill with Kennedy, quickly coined “McKennedy,” caused him to lose a significant amount of support from the conservative base. In Iowa he told supporters, “Immigration is probably a more powerful issue here than almost anyplace that I’ve been.” As a result, the New York Times wrote that McCain was “reconsidering his views on how immigration law might be changed.”

Aside from Kennedy himself, there is little support in the Senate to resuscitate McCain-Kennedy and the White House has intervened to broker a new deal.

In a March 30 address to the Republican National Lawyers Association Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) explained, “We’re not going to use Sen. Kennedy’s bill and we’ve been having meetings where the administration is heavily committed. The President personally has delegated the Secretary of Commerce [Carlos Gutierrez] and the Secretary of Homeland Security [Michael Chertoff] to sit with about 10 Republican senators for two hours — 4:00 to 6:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the past several weeks — and we have come up with a bill, and the cornerstone of the bill is a verification of the status of undocumented immigrants.”

The talks were led by Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) and have included Republicans Senators John Cornyn (Tex.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Democrats Senators Patrick Leahy (Vt.),  Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.)

Martinez said a final version of their plan will be introduced after Easter recess, but portions of it have already been leaked to the press. The legislation is expected to allow undocumented workers to apply for three-year “Z visas.” The Z visa would cost $3,500 and could be endlessly renewed as long as the holder would pay $3,500 for each renewal.  Z visa holders would then be entitled to access emergency social services and attend primary and secondary schools.
In order to gain full citizenship, illegal immigrants would be required to return home and pay $2,000 to apply for a green card at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Once approved, it would cost an additional $8,000 to get the green card.

On the other side of Congress, a 600-page bill introduced by Flake and Gutierrez would allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. before June 2006 to apply for a six-year work visa.

Titled the “Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy” (STRIVE) Act, the plan offers several ways for illegal aliens to gain legal status without returning to their home countries.

Spouses and children under 21 of undocumented workers would also be permitted to apply for a six-year visa. Non-citizen students who have lived in the United States for at least five years before turning 16 years old would immediately qualify for permanent residence. The Flake-Gutierrez bill also contains Kennedy’s longtime plan to give those who entered the United States illegally in-state tuition rates at all public colleges and universities called the DREAM Act.

Those applying for legal status would be required to pay $500 for a security and criminal background check. The Flake-Gutierrez bill also contains provisions to give temporary legal status to illegal aliens who have agricultural-related jobs.

Both the White House plan and STRIVE would require immigrants to take English and civics classes, but will still probably be labeled an “amnesty” as previous measures have been.

Freshman Democrat Rep. Nick Lampson, who took over former House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s (R.) seat in Texas, campaigned hard against amnesty for illegal aliens in his midterm election. Lampson’s spokesman Bobby Zafarnia reiterated to the Associated Press on March 24 that Lampson “would not support a bill that has a road to legal residency for illegal and undocumented workers who are already here.”

When the House and Senate debate their bills in late May and July there are sure to be hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal aliens and their special interest group allies camping out on the National Mall to pressure members for votes, just like last year. Unfortunately, for the Democrats and President Bush most of them participating are not voting constituents.

Despite all the attention paid to last summer’s round of immigrant protests these events were largely unsuccessful in swinging real votes for their cause. And now, even an old politician like McCain has learned not to pander to those who aren’t registered to vote.