With Two Weeks Left, Will Senate Deal With Immigration?

With less than two weeks to go before Congress adjourns for the summer, some  lawmakers want to revisit the issue that left scars, bruises, and some political corpses on Capitol Hill in ’06:  a “comprehensive immigration” package.

Yesterday, as the administration was poised to commence a summit on immigration, Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) left jaws agape after saying he was optimistic that “comprehensive immigration reform” can be enacted by Congress as soon as this year.

Comprehensive immigration reform?  The phrase invokes shudders from Members of Congress of both parties of the 300-page page legislation that George W. Bush badly wanted passed in ‘07, that Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) championed, and that few others outside of the far left  and groups such as “La Raza” were enthusiastic about.  

“Comprehensive immigration,” then as now, means a package to deal with all aspects of the issue at once, from border security to a means of legalizing — and granting amnesty and citizenship — to the estimated 12 million-plus people who are here illegally. Proponents said it didn’t go far enough, and opponents dubbed it “amnesty.” The measure died in the Senate, and McCain as a presidential candidate would later say he realized the American people wanted border security before they would consider legalization of the illegal immigrants already here.  

Now, it appears, comprehensive immigration has re-emerged and Schumer intends to introduce legislation to that end by this fall.

“I have no doubt that President Obama has an unyielding commitment to achieving comprehensive immigration reform,” Schumer told a conference of the Migration Policy Institute at Georgetown University on Wednesday (June 24), “And I truly believe that his leadership will be the critical difference in getting us over the hump this time around [italics added].”  

The last sentence was a not-so-subtle reference to the debate on comprehensive immigration three years ago — that it was not the end of the idea of a cure-all-in-one package solution but only an impasse, that the ’06 debate ended in stalemate rather than defeat, and Obama would be “getting us over the hump” in ’09.

Read the Fine Print — And Don’t Rush!

In his address at Georgetown, the New York senator spelled out seven principles that he said would form the basis for his legislation.  These include a very general statement that “illegal immigration is wrong” and that the legislation must dramatically curtail future illegal immigration; a belief that operational control of our borders must be achieved within a year of enactment of the measure; a “biometric-based employer verification system that includes tough enforcement and auditing is necessary to diminish the “job magnet” that is a big cause of people coming here illegally; and, in what is essentially a “repeat performance” from the ’06 package, “[a]ll illegal aliens present in the United States on the date of enactment of our bill must quickly register their presence with the United States government and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship.”

For me at least, “converting to legal status” and “earning a path to citizenship” sounded hauntingly familiar. That was the official line of the Bush White House in promoting the ’06 comprehensive immigration package. During some grueling sessions explaining the immigration measure to reporters, the late White House Press Secretary Tony Snow often invoked those phrases.  

“Comprehensive immigration” did not come to pass then and one can already sense the mounting opposition to it before Schumer spells out the details.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), one of the premier opponents of the ’06 package, summarized the opposition to what Schumer talks about in ’09.

“Our nation desperately needs immigration reform that addresses issues such as border security and the status of illegal immigrants,” Inhofe told me, “While I applaud the bipartisan efforts of my colleagues to address these issues, I am concerned with the details of any measure that provides any sort of amnesty for those that are here illegally.  

“Problematic details can get overlooked when legislation is rushed through the process.  The Senate should take appropriate time to make sure immigration reform is addressed fully and properly, paying close attention to each detail of the legislation.”