"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
– The New Collosus by Emma Lazarus
The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved bipartisan legislation that would create a guest worker program and allow the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to legalize their status and ultimately apply for naturalization. At its core, this legislation recognizes the obvious – that undocumented immigrants, primarily from Latin America, have become a part of the social and economic fabric of this country. The bill also includes provisions for strengthening Border Patrol and increasing the number of green cards available for skilled workers.
The bill that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee is vastly different from the draconian bill passed by the House in December. Most notably, the House bill does not contain a guest worker program and is wholly focused on tougher enforcement. The House bill proposes to make undocumented aliens felons and to make aiding an undocumented alien a felony. Sec. 274(a)(1) of the bill criminalizes actions of those who:
(C) assists, encourages, directs, or induces a person to reside in or remain in the United States, or to attempt to reside in or remain in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to reside in or remain in the United States;
(D) transports or moves a person in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to enter or be in the United States, where the transportation or movement will aid or further in any manner the person’s illegal entry into or illegal presence in the United States;
The two bills reveal the split within the Republican Party between the pro-business wing and the anti-immigration wing. What initially looked like a political winner for the Republicans in the 2006 elections now appears to be far murkier. The Sensenbrenner/Frist wing had hoped to appeal to the baser instincts of the voters by connecting the dots (not too subtly) from undocumented immigrants, to criminals, to terrorists. Although it plays well on right wing radio it is not clear whether the public’s fear of another terrorist attack can be manipulated into an anti-immigration platform and finally into votes in November. The Republican hope is that this will be the same kind of wedge issue in 2006 that gay marriage was for the Republicans in 2004.
I think it is highly unlikely that the House version of the bill would ever pass both chambers (and vice versa). The pro-business Republicans in the Senate would not allow it. However, the controversy generated by this issue and the stark choices will make for good election year politicking. Expect to see Republicans beat the drum pretty hard on this issue if they start getting traction with the voters, but also expect to see no legislative action. Either the bill stalls in the Senate or the two bills become comatose in conference. When you cannot run on your record and have to run away from the President, appealing to the baser instincts of the electorate always seems like a good idea.
So, where does that leave the very real issue of immigration reform? Nowhere, I’m afraid. The urgent need to balance the right of a nation to secure its borders and the great tradition of this country to welcome people seeking a better life will not be addressed this election year. The 11 million undocumented immigrants and the American public will spend another year out in the cold.