Reform immigration

But Congress should reject the 'Gang of 8' and write a new bill

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A few weeks ago, the odds an immigration reform bill could pass in both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives were closer to "none" than "slim."

The prospect of having millions of newly enfranchised Hispanics voting for them is the chief interest Democrats have in immigration reform. But there were indications President Barack Obama would rather have the issue than a bill that could pass in the House.

After the president's humiliating defeat on gun control, however, he badly needs a "win" on a substantive issue, lest he become a lame duck far earlier than any president before him. He can get it only on immigration.

The Boston Marathon bombing has made millions more aware of how badly broken the present system is and has made fixing it a more urgent priority. Big majorities of Republicans as well as of Democrats and independents say they'd support an immigration reform bill that does what the so-called "Gang of 8" senators say theirs will do -- secure the border, tighten scrutiny of visa applicants and give otherwise law-abiding illegals a "path to citizenship."

The odds a bill that does those things will become law are now better than 50-50. It won't be the "Gang of 8" bill. Critics have identified hundreds of instances in which the language in the 844-page bill undermines the claims of its sponsors.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., lead negotiator for the Democrats, never intended to keep the promises he made to get Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on board, writes National Review editor Rich Lowry.

"Schumer's genius is to have placated Rubio not just with promises, but with new versions of old promises," he observed. "Rubio traded amnesty -- although he refuses to call it that -- for an enforcement plan on paper and a commission to be named later."

I agree 100 percent with Mr. Lowry's characterization of Sen. Schumer. But if Rich Lowry and I know Chuck Schumer is clever, devious and untrustworthy, odds are Sen. Rubio does, too.

Mr. Lowry's condescension is a mild form of a grave conservative failing. Many are never happier than when they're accusing other conservatives of betrayal. Marco Rubio may be wrong on this issue, but he is no traitor, coward or fool. He may be a better strategic thinker.

Conservatives have raised alarms about the efficacy of the security provisions in the "Gang of 8" bill and the bill's cost. But these are better arguments for improving the bill than for rejecting reform altogether.

Most conservatives who oppose immigration reform do so primarily because they are unwilling ever to forgive the otherwise law-abiding for having snuck into the country.

Before illegals could apply for citizenship, they'd have to keep their noses clean for 13 years and pay a $2,000 fine, the "Gang of 8" bill ostensibly provides. But to Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, columnist Pat Buchanan and Mr. Lowry, this is still "amnesty."

Most Republicans don't share this view, and if it prevails, the GOP may never win another national election.

Some criticisms are spurious. No harm would befall the republic if the otherwise law-abiding were relieved of the fear of deportation before the border is pronounced secure. (Whether illegals should also be made eligible for welfare benefits, immediately or ever, is another question entirely.)

But the republic will suffer if we do nothing to repair an immigration system that's so badly broken. The winning strategy for the GOP is to make certain any bill that ultimately passes actually does what the "Gang of 8" says theirs will do.

But so many things are wrong with their bill that trying to fix them one by one is a Herculean task -- akin to cleaning the Augean stables. To get a bill that does what the "Gang of 8" promises, it'd be easier to start over from scratch.

Which is exactly what Republicans in the House should do: Write a bill that does what the vast majority of Americans say they want done. If both the House and Senate pass reform bills, the focus will be on which approach is better. Conservative concerns about security and cost will be taken more seriously.

After Boston, there will be a political cost to Democrats if they oppose fixing a system that lets the likes of the Tsarnaevs into the country. We could be pleasantly surprised by what they'd be willing to accept.

jackkelly

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).


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