As CQ readers know, I stressed the importance of keeping an open mind about the new immigration-reform compromise. With a minority in Congress and a legalization advocate in the White House, we would be lucky to get something that included any kind of border security at all. Jon Kyl and other conservative Republicans fought to get us the best deal they could, and their recommendation (especially Kyl's) should carry a lot of weight. That doesn't mean we have to just accept whatever is thrown at us, but it does mean we should examine it carefully before rejecting it out of hand -- and see if we can use this as a good start, because the status quo is unacceptable.
A few details have arisen over the weekend, however, that make me more uncomfortable with the compromise. The Bush administration insisted on removing a requirement to pay back taxes on money earned before legalization:
The Bush administration insisted on a little-noticed change in the bipartisan Senate immigration bill that would enable 12 million undocumented residents to avoid paying back taxes or associated fines to the Internal Revenue Service, officials said.
An independent analyst estimated the decision could cost the IRS tens of billions of dollars.
A provision requiring payment of back taxes had been in the initial version of a bill proposed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat. But the administration called for the provision to be removed due to concern that it would be too difficult to figure out which illegal immigrants owed back taxes.
This is a huge mistake. It's one thing (and not a good thing) to put illegal immigrants ahead of those waiting in line legally to enter our country. It's another entirely to put them ahead of US citizens. Should we declare an overall amnesty on back taxes? If not, then why do illegals get preferential treatment?
The Bush administration claims it would be too difficult to determine what wages were paid while operating in the black market economy. Really? Perhaps the better solution would be to penalize the employers for whom these people worked if they cannot produce records of wages paid, in the amount we could recover for back taxes. If not, then we should come up with a standard penalty based on years in the US. After all, applicants for Z-visas will have to undergo a background check, which should reveal how long they have resided -- and worked -- in the US, and the penalty can be determined from that.
I also have to take notice that the men and women who secure our border, or at least attempt to do so, don't like this bill either:
The leadership of all 11,000 nonsupervisory U.S. Border Patrol agents yesterday criticized an immigration compromise by senators and the Bush administration as "piecemeal" legislation that invites future terrorist attacks and fails to secure the nation's borders.
"Every person who has ever risked their life securing our borders is extremely disheartened to see some of our elected representatives once again waving the white flag on the issues of illegal immigration and border security," National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner said.
"Rewarding criminal behavior has never induced anyone to abide by the law, and there is no reason to believe the outcome will be any different this time," he said.
I don't think that their opinion should be conclusory, but it certainly bears attention. If the professionals on the border don't like the compromise, it behooves us to find out what they don't like and see if it can be fixed. If they don't see the border-security provisions as tough enough to make a difference, then we should insist they get strengthened. On the other hand, if they object to normalization as a concept, then perhaps they should also take a look at the composition of Congress and give us an idea how to do better. I think this objection has elements of both, but is more the former than the latter -- and that means we should take it seriously.
Hugh Hewitt is taking a hard look at the nuts and bolts of the language. Hugh's very much an advocate of the opposition on this, but he is finding even more objective reasons to be so. One very large problem is a waiver for processing Z-visas where background checks do not get completed in a single day. I'm not sure that any checks could possibly get completed that quickly. Does that mean that we have effectively eliminated them? Will we be giving Z-visas to MS-13 gangsters?
These problems amount to deal-killers, in my opinion. I'm on board conceptually, but this compromise needs a lot of work and amending in the Senate. National security requires that we find a solution as quickly as possible, but we need to peruse every single clause in this bill to make sure it matches the description given to the American public last Thursday. So far, it appears to fall short.