Immigration Battle on Capitol Hill

Immigration has become a thorny issue for congressional Democrats, with a Democrat-sponsored enforcement bill competing for the party leadership’s blessing with an amnesty proposal by the leader of the Hispanic Caucus.

House Democratic leaders face a bitter civil war over immigration issues. Blue Dog Democrats, who tend to be more conservative, stand behind H.R. 4088, the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE), but the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), and open-borders Democrats favor some form of amnesty for the 12 million illegal aliens. The SAVE Act is sponsored by Blue Dog Rep. Heath Shuler, (D-N.C). It takes an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration and shutting off the “jobs magnet.”

The centerpiece of H.R. 4088 is phasing in the E-Verify program. Over four years, all employers would eventually use this web-based system. The Shuler bill adds 8,000 Border Patrol officers, border security technology, federal judge slots, and 1,200 interior enforcement agents.

E-Verify instantaneously confirms a new employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S. Existing Social Security and immigrant data confirm name and Social Security or alien employment numbers, without creating any new databases. Some 56,000 employers nationwide voluntarily use E-Verify.

SAVE is a truly bipartisan measure. It has 49 Democratic and 99 Republican cosponsors. Supporters range from senior Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.), to Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Artur Davis, (D.-Ala.) to Hispanic Caucus member Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D.-Tex.).

Republican cosponsors include Immigration Subcommittee Ranking member Steve King of Iowa, Immigration Reform Caucus Chairman Brian Bilbray of California and Illinois moderate Judy Biggert.

The stakes rose the week before Easter recess when Rep. Thelma Drake (R.-Va.) initiated a parliamentary move to bring the bill straight to the House floor for a vote. The discharge petition she filed, which, to be successful, requires signatures from half the membership of the House, took off like a rocket.

The petition garnered 181 of the necessary 218 signatures in just four days. While 172 Republican congressmen signed the petition, only nine Democrats signed before recess.
Those nine brave Democrats are all cosponsors of H.R. 4088. But 40 Democrats who cosponsored the bill haven’t signed the discharge petition.

The first day back in session, three more members signed: Patrick Tiberi (R.-Ohio), Don Young (R.-Alaska), and Paul Kanjorski (D.-Pa.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and fellow Democratic leaders now find themselves pressured from both right and left. Open-borders elements of the Democratic Caucus want guarantees of amnesty and visa increases as part of any House immigration debate.
In late February, Rep. Baca announced that backroom open-borders negotiators have crafted a “temporary” amnesty. Baca would give illegal aliens a five-year “temporary work permit.” Congressional observers and aides believe the intent is to then grant permanent amnesty.

The Baca proposal would also amnesty illicit employers who hire illegal aliens. The so-called “safe harbor” would protect the law-breaking employers who gain an unfair competitive advantage from the depressed wages paid to illegal workers. And they’d get to keep their ill-gotten gains without paying restitution to law-abiding competitors.

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) called Baca’s amnesty a nonstarter. He told RollCall that Baca’s “proposal won’t reach the President’s desk this year.”

Others in the Democratic ranks are angling to include more unskilled foreign worker visas known as H2B, while some in both parties are pushing to increase skilled “temporary” H1B worker visas. There’s no justification for this in the face of tough economic times that are hurting native-born Americans.

Adding amnesty and imported cheap foreign labor to a targeted enforcement bill would give all sides of the Democratic Caucus something for which to claim credit. At the same time, it would expose the Democrats’ addiction to mere lip service on immigration.

Democratic campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) has called immigration “the third rail of American politics” and said that “anyone who doesn’t realize that isn’t with the American people.” Ironically, it could be the Democratic leadership who “doesn’t realize that.”

“I know for a fact that Congressman Shuler and a handful of center-of-the-aisle Democrats are doing all they can at the moment to ensure the House leadership does not fall into the same ideological trap that the Senate fell into last year,” said Shawn Bullard, a leading immigration lobbyist at the Duetto Group who works closely with House and Senate Democrats.

“It’s difficult to imagine the House leadership subjecting its members to the same type of pain,” Bullard said. “But one or two in the House leadership unfortunately have short memories.”

Key observers think anything other than an enforcement-only, incremental solution to the immigration quandary is bad policy, if not politically impossible. Yet, stubborn open-borders factions continue to hold even modest enforcement measures such as the SAVE Act hostage to some grand bargain. That posture might spell disaster for Democrats now holding a majority in the House and Senate.

“This debate is happening at just about every kitchen table in America,” observed a House GOP leadership aide. “The fact that Speaker Pelosi won’t even allow it to be debated on the House floor says a lot about this majority’s agenda.”

“There’s not much in Rep. Shuler’s bill that members of the House haven’t voted on in one form or another throughout the past couple of years,” Bullard said. “It’s clearly the only well-thought-out immigration enforcement bill in Congress this year that has any chance of passage.”

“SAVE is straightforward, strengthens many existing immigration-related laws and isn’t taking any House Democrat or Republican member down a road they’ve not traveled before,” Bullard said. “You certainly can’t say that about the amnesty bills that are popping up like daisies in hopes of attaching themselves to Rep. Shuler’s bipartisan bill. I assure you, those daisies are radioactive to dozens of center-aisle Democrats.”