Congress appears to have a hearing problem. Oh, they have heard the uproar over the immigration reform bill, but they still seem to be deaf to the actual complaints that have fueled the opposition to it. As a result, the backers of the bill will add an amendment today that not only fails to address the chief criticisms of the bill, but actually degrade one of its benefits:
With a crucial test vote scheduled for today, Republican supporters of a sweeping immigration bill threw their weight yesterday behind a significant change to the legislation that would force illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for legal status. …
Perhaps the most significant shift came from three of the bill’s Republican architects: Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.). Under the current legislation, virtually all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants would be granted provisional legal status immediately, provided that within 18 months they pay a fine, cover processing fees and submit to a criminal background check to get a new five-year “Z Visa.” If they wanted legal permanent residence, heads of illegal-immigrant households would have to return to their home countries to apply for a green card.
Kyl, Graham and Martinez had already put together an amendment to secure $4.4 billion for border enforcement, create a tracking system to keep tabs on guest workers and permanently bar workers who overstay their visas from returning. Those measures would augment provisions already in the bill to tighten border security and clamp down on employers of illegal immigrants.
Yesterday, the three senators added a provision that would force illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for Z Visas, not just their green cards. With the architects of the bill behind it, supporters predicted that the amendment would pass easily.
In other words, they want to expand the “touchback” provision to come at the beginning of the process. In order to “step out of the shadows,” as the bill’s backers like to put it, illegal immigrants will have to go back to their country of origin first and apply for the probationary Z-visa. If the bill follows its previous pattern, that will only apply to the heads of households, forcing 4-6 million people to leave the country within a short period of time after the bill’s passage — no mean feat itself.
That sounds like it solves the issue of those who want people deported for their illegal entry, but it doesn’t. In the first place, it removes the incentive for self-reporting, the only real benefit of the Z-visa program offers. A significant percentage will just remain in the shadows, and the national-security aspect of the Z-visas will never get realized. Also, it doesn’t do much to force the illegals to the “back of the line” on immigration approval, which is the greater issue for many who oppose the normalization process offered in this compromise. It just puts the touchback in a spot where every head of household has to do it, regardless of whether they want permanent residency here or not.
The Senate still hasn’t heard the message about the lack of trust the people have in them to secure the border and fix the broken visa system before creating the bureaucratic mess that their normalization proposal will require. The people want to see Congress and the White House successfully start clamping down on the border. The so-called virtual fence has missed its deadline already — for just 28 miles of it:
Known as Project 28, for the 28 miles of border that the towers will scan, the so-called virtual fence forms the backbone of the Secure Border Initiative, known as SBInet, a multibillion-dollar mix of technology, manpower and fencing intended to control illegal border crossings.
If successful, hundreds of such towers could dot the 6,000 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders.
But glitches with the radar and cameras have forced the project to miss its June 13 starting date, just as Congress focuses anew on border security in the Senate measure to overhaul immigration law.
Officials at the Homeland Security Department insist that Boeing, which has a $67 million contract to develop the project and others, will soon put it back on track, though they are not providing a new completion date.
This comes 21 years after the last time Congress promised to secure the border. People haven’t forgotten that promise, and the failures of both parties to honor it. We don’t want to buy normalization a second time as part of the promise that should have been honored by eleven subsequent Congresses and four different Presidents.
Secure the border. Fix the visa program, and the passport system as well. When those tasks have been completed, then we can talk about how best to normalize those remaining in the US and how best to incentivize them to come forward. Once the main problem has been resolved, Washington will have built up enough credibility to gain our trust on flexible solutions.