“Our immigration problems cannot be solved piecemeal. They must be all addressed together, and they must be addressed in logical order.”
President George W. Bush
May 24, 2007
The question must be asked, can any American believe that the federal government can implement a bill that is hundreds of pages long based on the previous history of immigration reform?
Since addressing this topic in HUMAN EVENTS in April, debate on a “compromise” bill on immigration reform is being taken up in the United States Senate. This compromise is more conservative than the McCain-Kennedy bill passed last year in the Senate but it is still a long way from the border security first passed in the House last year. The American people do not trust the government to do anything comprehensively, they want to achieve immigration reform with border security first.
One of the key players in the compromise is Senator Johnny Isakson from Georgia. Sen. Isakson is a first term US Senator with a long history of working with Democrats. A business man who entered the Georgia General Assembly as a Republican in the mid 1970s had to work with Democrats to get anything done. The joke was that the Georgia GOP conventions could be held in a phone booth in those days. He ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Georgia and for United States Senator before entering Congress in 1999; filling the seat left vacant by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He was also tapped in the mid ‘90s by Governor Zell Miller to head up the State School Board. Johnny Isakson has been the real “uniter, not a divider” for his entire career–without compromising his principles.
As a United States Senator since 2003, he quickly became the go to person on compromises in the United States Senate. Last year, Senator Isakson introduced an amendment to the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill that first introduced the idea of border security first with triggers in a comprehensive bill before the amnesty—oops, I mean — guest worker provisions. That amendment did not pass but McCain-Kennedy did pass only to die without a conference committee or debate on how to mesh it with the House bill on immigration reform. Many believe that Sen. Isakson’s trigger amendment would be back and would be the foundation of any new bill.
Just before the South Carolina and Georgia GOP State Conventions earlier this month, Senator Isakson and Senator Chambliss of Georgia and Senator Graham of South Carolina and the rest of the group led by Sen. Ted Kennedy announced a landmark deal on a bill on immigration reform with the blessing of the White House. Since then, the Senator from Georgia has been fighting the biggest public relations war of his public life because the average Joe, Joe Sixpack, if you will, isn’t buying it. Average Americans don’t have the faith that the Feds can or will enforce anything this “comprehensive,” and the lobbyists for open borders are hoping we don’t.
Senator Johnny Isakson appeared on my radio program on WDUN AM 550 in Gainesville, Georgia on Friday the 18th and again for an extended period with calls on Wednesday the 23rd. He explained how the triggers would work and that certification would occur based on objective benchmarks. The overall concern of the callers was that if the federal government can’t enforce the laws now, how can we expect them to enforce a new more complicated slate of laws? The Borders First crowd got there because the federal government has been looking the other way for a generation and they need assurances that the government is serious. By the end of that appearance, Senator Isakson made headway with some of the callers, but the response following and in the days since has been mostly negative.
Here are a few questions submitted to Senator Isakson from listeners and his answers:
One of the provisions of the bill requires that illegal immigrants plead guilty to coming into the country illegally. What will be the incentive to get people to come forward and plead guilty to entering the country illegally?
• If they do not come forward, they will be deported and permanently banned from the United States when they are caught.
• If they try to get a job, employers will ask for their biometrically secure identification cards, which they won’t have.
• If an employer hires an individual without a biometrically secure identification card, the employer will face extensive fines for each illegal immigrant that is employed.
How will the id cards be distributed?
• They will be distributed only after the border is certified as secure and the “trigger” is pulled. Then those who came forward, pleaded guilty and were placed on probation may come forward to apply for the Z visa. That is when they would be issued a biometrically secure id card.
What groups will have to return home for proper paperwork?
• For now the bill does not force deportation of the estimated 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants who are here. While this is not ideal, the Democrats are not willing to force deportation, and they are in the majority.
• Illegals who want to apply for permanent residency or citizenship must leave the country and must apply through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the United States, just like everyone else, and they are placed at the back of the line. Everyone who has been waiting patiently in line will be ahead of them.
• If illegals fail to come forward within 18 months of the legislation’s enactment, or fail to clear a background check, or fail to learn English, or if they commit a second crime, they will be deported and permanently banned from the United States.
• Under the current proposal, workers who obtain Z visas would have to leave the country when they stopped working.
What are the Z visas?
• In order to obtain a probationary Z visa granting temporary, probationary legal status, an illegal immigrant must:
o Come forward within 18 months of the bill’s enactment
o Plead guilty to breaking the law and be placed on probation
o Pay an extensive fine and processing fee
o Undergo criminal background checks
o Prove they are employed
o Become proficient in English
o Wait for the border security “trigger” to be pulled.
• Workers approved for Z visas will be given a temporary probationary legal status, but they will be barred from the full privileges of citizens or Legal Permanent Residents, such as welfare benefits, Social Security benefits, and the ability to sponsor relatives abroad as immigrants.
• Workers who obtain Z visas must leave the country when they stop working.
• Under this proposal, it will take most Z visa workers at least a decade to be eligible for a green card.
• After becoming eligible, Z visa workers must wait in line behind those who applied lawfully, pay penalties, fees, and fines, complete accelerated English requirements, leave the United States and file their application in their home country, and demonstrate merit based on the skills and attributes they will bring to the United States.
• Z visa workers will pay into the Social Security system, as will their employers. Z visa workers may collect ONLY the share they individually put into the system and ONLY when they leave the United States. Z visa workers are barred from collecting the share of Social Security that employers put into the system on their behalf.
• Probationary Z visa applicants must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States, as well as be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. They must prove this in a test prior to their first renewal of their probationary Z visa.
• Before the Z visa and temporary worker programs go into effect, an Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) must be in place and ready to prevent unauthorized workers from obtaining jobs in the United States.
How long will the triggers have to be put in place?
• Ideally they will be in place in 18 to 24 months. No temporary worker program can begin until the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies to the President and to the Congress that each element of the trigger is funded, in place and operational.
• If the triggers are not put into place, the other elements of the bill such as the temporary worker program would not be enacted.
Last year we passed a 700+ mile fence bill and the president signed it. How would this bill change this legislation?
• It does not change the law at all. One of the border security triggers is 370 miles of walls or fences on the border. This means that when the Department of Homeland Security builds 370 miles the trigger is achieved. However, the department will continue to build the walls and fences until they reach the amount mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
• The current proposal calls for 200 miles of barriers, 370 miles of walls or fences, four unmanned aerial vehicles that each have a 150-mile radius (600 miles total), 70 ground positioning radar systems with a radius of 12 miles each (1,680 miles total). In all, the proposal calls for almost 2,800 miles of seamless security.
What do you think about Teddy Kennedy being the face of this compromise?
• The Democrats control both the House and Senate and have the votes to pass last year’s Kennedy bill or something worse that will grant amnesty and will not secure our borders.
• In the legislative process, no one gets 100 percent of what they want. This legislation represents the best opportunity that we have to secure our borders and address this problem.
• Some say we can not trust this White House or the Democrats to actually enforce the new bill. That will be true of any legislation, and that is why my border-security-first triggers are so important.
• We also have to consider what kind of bill we might get with a Democratic President (no border security, blanket amnesty, no enforcement and rights to all welfare benefits).
How did your amendment change to be the foundation of this bill?
• My amendment is the same one that I offered as the ‘trigger’ to last year’s Kennedy bill. It was defeated 40 to 55 last year. This year, it was embraced by everyone. My colleagues have come to realize that any comprehensive immigration reform without border security first is unacceptable and unworkable.
So what happens next? A couple of things are clear. This bill does have more of an emphasis on border security than anything the Senate has taken up, but so did the 1986 and the 1996 bill and the border part of the bills were never implemented to the levels that were required. My preference would be to complete the fence that was mandated last year and then take up border security which should include ending birthright citizenship in a bill and then take up the guest worker provisions in later legislation.
Here’s what I think will happen. The Senate will pass some sort of bill and the House will pass something that is so different that they won’t be able to get together. Let’s see if the federal government can show that they mean business by getting the fence built and with that small amount of good will upon completion, get back to the table and get a bill passed next year.
According to the most recent Zogby poll of likely Latino voters, they support border security first at levels over 70%. Not quite as high as total likely voters, but a very high number. Conservatives and Unions are very upset about provisions and the concerns about what else is in a bill that no one has read. Now is not the time to stop being involved. Continue calling your two Senators and your Congressman and let them know how you want them to vote on this bill and how you want them reform the policies around illegal immigrants.
Yesterday was Memorial Day; I want to remember all those who have given their lives and all those who offered their lives for freedom. It is the responsibility of government to honor those sacrifices by being efficient and diligent in their charge of upholding the Constitution of the Unites States and fighting terrorism — the biggest threat to our nation to date. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to speak to troops every week and to have been raised by a father, Frank Mitchell (1910-1991), who served in WWII and survived being a POW in a German prison camp. He always said it wasn’t a big deal, “They just didn’t feed us.” He was a hero and a loving father and I still miss him. My favorite story of his service was his coming home. When he arrived back in the US, he was very thin. The first thing he saw was my mother, Juanita, running towards him holding her hat on as she ran. He was home. Thanks for your service, Dad and Happy Memorial Day.