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May 12, 2006
Immigration Deal In Senate

The Senate reached a compromise on the immigration-reform bill that will allow for Republican amendments and soon create a conference committee to hash out a compromise on the effort for reform. Key to the final version will be the members from both houses to the conference committee, and at least one opponent of amnesty from the Senate will be included:

Senate leaders reached a deal yesterday on reviving a broad immigration bill that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens and said they will try to pass it before Memorial Day.

The agreement brokered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) breaks a political stalemate that has lingered for weeks while immigrants and their supporters held rallies, boycotts and protests to push for action. ...

Key to the agreement is who will be negotiating a compromise with the House, which last December passed an enforcement-only bill that would subject the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to felony charges as well as deportation.

Frist said the Senate will send 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats to negotiate with the House, with seven of the Republicans and five Democrats coming from the Judiciary Committee. The remaining seven Republicans will be chosen by Frist and the remaining seven Democrats by Reid.

At least one opponent of the compromise measure, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), will be among the remaining seven Republicans appointed to the committee, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Cornyn.

Cornyn has stood tall against the Democrats and the White House in opposing the Senate's focus on normalization while mostly ignoring border security. He will be one voice among dozens, but his inclusion does show that the Senate leadership of both parties recognize the strong push for border security. Depending on the rest of the roster, it might show that both leaders want to move closer to the House position on security while salvaging as much of the normalization plan as they can. It also acknowledges that no conference bill will get any kind of credibility without the imprimatur of Cornyn and others of his perspective.

Once the two bills go to committee, they can get completely rewritten and in this case probably will. Some of that depends on the amendments attached to the Senate plan. Cornyn and others want to attach riders that will force the US to build a physical barrier on the southern border; others will press for more enforcement resources. If those pass, and they likely will if given a vote, then it will make it easier for similar components of the House bill to make it into the final product.

Given the politics surrounding this issue, clearly whatever comes out of committee will need to have elements of strong border security and normalization in order to pass in both chambers. Absent one of these elements, the legislation will fail, especially in the Senate which clearly shows a bipartisan sympathy for normalization. Immigration hardliners will not be pleased, but such a result will fairly accurately reflect the electorate's overall position on immigration. If border security and immigration enforcement gets taken seriously as a result, it will still represent a vast improvement over the current, sorry state of affairs.

Normalization, however, cannot take the shape of the initial Bush proposal of a temporary guest worker program. If we learned anything from France, it was that importing a permanent underclass of workers with no hope of assimilation into the social and political structure of the nation only buys trouble down the road. If we are to have normalization, then it should be a long and challenging journey, but one with true normalization at the end of the process. One of the benefits of normalization is that illegals self-identify and make it easier to find those who truly remain undesirable. Illegals will not self-identify without powerful motivation to blow their cover, and the promise of a three-year extension on their stay before they get kicked out won't be enough. We should also make the immigration process much more efficient as part of this compromise; the stories of legal applicants for immigration being forced to wait years for their status to be determined not only should embarrass us, it also tempts too many to enter illegally instead.

The compromise actually should be greeted as good news to immigration hardliners. The chances of positive action just increased exponentially with this deal. Democrats had once thought to stall any immigration legislation in order to kneecap the GOP in the upcoming elections, but the demonstrations forced them into action instead. Once the bill comes out of conference, it cannot be further amended or sent to committees for review. Both chambers must vote on it, which will make clear who supports action on border security and the resolution of the illegal-immigrant question. What we need to watch is the crucial composition of the conference committee and the amendments the Republicans can pass before the Senate version gets there.

UPDATE: Apparently, some Democrats still want to demagogue on immigration legislation as an election-year tactic:

However briefly, nearly everyone seemed pleased. ... Everyone but House Republicans, many of whom criticize the Senate's bill as an amnesty measure. And possibly House Democrats, who, ironically enough, seem to share the White House view of the political implications of immigration. They are eager to campaign against Republicans responsible for last year's bill to make all illegal immigrants subject to felony charges.

Of course, the House Republican leadership has tried to withdraw that provision for weeks now, and its chances for inclusion in the final bill are just about nil. That won't stop the Democrats from using it in the midterm elections, and that's fair. But if they attempt to stall the legislation, they will find themselves the target of bipartisan ire instead. Their leadership has clearly decided that their base now requires action, and a failure to support a true compromise that gives everyone at least some of what they want will not reflect poorly on the GOP if the Democrats torpedo it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 12, 2006 5:38 AM

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