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Why The Gutierrez Amnesty Bill Is So Bad—And Why It Might Pass Anyway
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December 28, 2009, 04:00 AM
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Twenty-five million Americans are out of work. New Census figures show that one out of every six "American" workers is foreign-born. It`s obviously the perfect time to gut enforcement, give amnesty to illegals aliens, and import millions additional legal immigrants!

At least it is for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) who just introduced HR 4321: the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America`s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009—or "CIR ASAP", as they like to call it.

I haven`t had a chance to read the whole bill, which is 645 of pages, but Guitierrez`s office sent out a 12 page detailed summary. It is worth noting that these bills always include hidden clauses that will provide loopholes to the minimal enforcement and preconditions for amnesty as well as millions of dollars in subsidies to La Raza and ACORN that are not listed in the summary, so the bill is no doubt worse than what I am about to lay out. But don`t worry, what`s in the summary is alarming enough. Potentially, the bill—

Reduces Border Security: CIR ASAP`s section on border security makes no mention of creating physical barriers or adding additional agents. Quite the opposite, it explicitly "prohibits military involvement in non-emergency border enforcement" and establishes "the US-Mexico Border Enforcement Commission and a Border Communities Liaison Office to foster and institutionalize community consultation."

These will be nothing but a new avenue for the Mexican government and majority-Hispanic towns in the US to obstruct border enforcement.

Abolishes all local and state level immigration enforcement: CIR ASAP repeals the successful 287 (g) program that allows states to partner with federal officials to crack down on criminal aliens. It also "preempts any state or local law that discriminates against an individual based on immigration status or imposes sanctions on any individual or entity based on the immigration status of its clients, employees, or tenants"—effectively nullifying successful and popular laws in states like Oklahoma, Georgia, and Arizona and localities like Prince William County, Virginia.

Weakens Federal Enforcement: In addition to completely banning any state level enforcement, the bill will bar any immigration raids at churches, schools, and designated "community" locations. It also practically prohibits any detention of illegal aliens if it will "separate families."

Additionally, it creates an ICE Ombudsman—as if it is not easy enough for the ACLU or MALDEF to complain and for illegals to avoid deportation.

Ends E-Verify: The bill creates a "new" employment verification system, that "shall be the technological basis for a secure cross-agency, cross-platform electronic system that is a cost-effective, efficient, fully integrated means to share immigration and Social Security information necessary to confirm the employment eligibility of all individuals seeking employment while protecting individual privacy."

We already have that. It`s called E-Verify. The only possible reason to create a new system is to make it ineffective.

Amnesty for Everyone, No Strings Attached: CIR ASAP makes no pretenses of limiting the number of people who would be eligible for amnesty. It applies to everyone who is present in the U.S. the day the bill is signed. So, even more so than other bills that purport to only apply to people here for a certain number of years, it will encourage illegal immigration while it is being debated.

An October Zogby survey of Mexicans found that "56 percent, thought giving legal status to illegal immigrants in the United States would make it more likely that people they know would go to the United States illegally. Just 17 percent thought it would make Mexicans less likely to go illegally." [Public Opinion in Mexico on U.S. Immigration: Zogby Poll Examines Attitudes, by Steve Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, October 2009.]

The only requirements for the CIR ASAP amnesty is that the illegal have a job or be in school, pass a criminal background check, and pay 500 dollars, and supposedly learn English. Of course, they`ll be plenty of loopholes for them to avoid even these flimsy conditions.

Increases Legal Immigration: The bill "permits the recapture of unused employment based visas" from 1992-2008. The "recapture" scheme is premised on the idea that if the number of visas issued in a certain category was below the cap anytime in the last 16 years, we should take these. Besides the fact that the caps are not meant to be minimums, we already "recapture" them every year when unused work visas get transferred to the family reunification category and vice versa.

When the usual suspects floated this idea around in 2008, the State Department estimated it would lead to an increase of 550,000 foreign workers annually—as if the 1.5 million we have is not enough.

There is a lot of talk about reducing the "back log" for green cards in the CIR ASAP summary. While some of this back log is actually bureaucratic, for the most part it is simply people on the waiting list because the million we issue each year still does not accommodate the 36% of all Mexicans who said they would move to the US if they had the opportunity. So reducing the "back log" will dramatically increase legal immigration until (and if) the "back log" is cleared. Incidentally, there is a proposed $500 dollar fee to expedite removal from the backlog, which is the same as the proposed fine for amnesty.

Additionally, there is vague language about strengthening the family reunification. A close reading of the bill will certainly find significant increases to that category as well.

The bill gets a little interesting when it creates a "Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets" to make recommendations to Congress about the proper levels of employment based immigrations. Depending on who is in power when they appoint this commission, it could make good or bad recommendations, and Congress could choose to enact or ignore them. I`m sure it will be stacked to make the Commission argue for more visas. Nonetheless, this does show that the writers of this bill are not automatically conceding long term increases in work-based immigration. Their concern is to get more Hispanics, not workers as such. I`ll return to this later.

Until these recommendations are made and implemented, however, the bill will create 100,000 new visas every year to "prevent unauthorized migration"—given specifically to countries that send high levels of illegal immigration via lottery, until this new system is enacted. The three top countries sending illegal immigrants are Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. So virtually all of these new visas will go to Hispanics.

The bill further increases legal immigration specifically to Hispanics by increasing maximum percentage of employment and family visas issued to specific countries by 42%. This specifically benefits countries such as Mexico that use up all of their allotted visas.

The only potentially good thing in the bill is that it includes some reforms to the H1B, H2B, and L1 visas. These are no doubt concessions to the labor unions who, at least in theory, worry about exposing their members to more completion. (More on that soon.)

Notwithstanding this incredibly thin silver lining, this CIR ASAP amnesty is much worse than the ones proposed in 2006 and 2007. At least those amnesties pretended to increase border security, step up interior enforcement, and make preconditions for legalization. CIR ASAP explicitly goes in the opposite direction.

Should we be worried?

I recently spoke with a former Republican Congressman who helped lead the fight against amnesty in 2006 about its prospects in 2010. He was pessimistic, arguing that as long as the Democrats could get a few Republicans on board, this would make the legislation "bipartisan" and give cover to all the Democrats who voted for it.

Personally, I am more optimistic about holding onto the Blue Dog Democrats. Right now this is a purely Democratic bill. Of the 91 co-sponsors not one is a Republican. Even the members of the Republican Hispanic Conference and folks like Jeff Flake are not signed on.

The unity of the Republicans against the Obama agenda is no doubt part of the reason. But it is very clear that this amnesty is designed to cater to unions and the Hispanic lobby rather than to Republican business interests. Thus Tamar Jacoby`s Immigration Works USA [a  "national federation of employers working to advance better immigration law."] complained that the bill

"provides no answer for one of the three essential questions at the heart of immigration reform [the other two being enforcement and amnesty]: how to provide a legal supply of the foreign labor we`ll need in the future to help the economy recover and grow. And some provisions, including the proposed changes to existing worker-visa programs, could hinder U.S. economic growth." [CIR ASAP – Only Part of the Fix That`s Needed, Immigration Works USA, December 16, 2009]

Similarly, the Chamber of Commerce whined about CIR ASAP in a press release:

"We look forward to reviewing the actual legislation, but we are concerned with the bill`s approach for temporary and seasonal worker programs outlined in the draft summary released today. Allowing an additional 100,000 unemployed immigrants a year to enter the country permanently through a lottery, as proposed in this bill, disregards the current needs of the economy. Immigration should be a demand-based system that permits employers to hire, as needed, when the economy recovers fully, igniting job growth." [U.S. Chamber Criticizes Immigration Reform Legislation, Chamber of Commerce, December 15, 2009]

Assuming the amnesty makes it onto the table, there will be a fight between the labor unions and business lobbies. The former will not be able to justify the legislation in this economy if it explicitly increases especially  temporary workers, which the unions have always been preoccupied with, probably because they are so hard to unionize. While the latter should be happy with the increases in total legal immigration, they are financially dependent on lobbies focused on certain types of temporary visas. No matter how many total visas are added, the H2B Workforce Coalition will not support a bill that cuts H2B visas. This inevitable schism could potentially sink the bill.

Funny things happen to legislation. For example, I am still not sure whether or not Congress will pass Obamacare, but I—like most political observers—was confident it would sail through earlier in the year.

In June, polls showed that the 65% of all Americans believed that providing healthcare for "every single American" should be the goal of health care reform, but 80% opposed giving health care to illegal aliens, and it was a deal breaker for 70% of Americans.

That the Democrats received such a fierce fight for something that Americans support in theory suggests that something that Americans are instinctively against will be extremely difficult to pass during an election year.

Besides the Hispanic Caucus, very few Democrats seem particularly eager to pass amnesty. Neither Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Assistant Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), nor Caucus Chair John Larson (D-CT) signed on as co-sponsors. Barack Obama hasn`t peeped a word about it. This could change quickly, but it seems almost inconceivable that they`d want to be supporting amnesty during an election year with 10% unemployment.

That being said, many Democrats seem to have swallowed the same "crucial Hispanic Swing vote" Kool-Aid as the Republicans. They give an inordinate amount of influence to the 20-member Hispanic Caucus. (In contrast, there are 100+ members in the Tancredo founded Immigration Reform Caucus). So it`s not impossible that the Democrats might in the end decide to push the bill.

The best way to fight amnesty is not to bother with the specifics of this proposal, but instead go on the offensive by calling for increased enforcement and a moratorium on legal immigration.

Indeed, if Republicans are smart they would make illegal immigration a major part of their attacks on the health care plan. Pointing out the loopholes is important, but they should also note that amnesty is around the corner—making any restriction of benefits to illegal aliens moot. Republicans should demand that all the Democrats who claim that they don`t want to give government health care to illegal aliens state on the record that they oppose amnesty.

Unfortunately, Republicans are stupid. So immigration patriots out in Americaland need to start this offensive for them.

"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.