Immigration 'Compromise' Bill Unlikely to Pass House
By Kevin Mooney
Cybercast News Service
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
September 05, 2006
(CNSNews.com) – A proposed House-Senate compromise on immigration reform – which would couple an “enforcement first” approach with a delayed guest worker program – appears near death on Capitol Hill.
Political scientists, policy analysts, special interest groups and key Congressional figures who are close to the debate say heightened resolve on the part of House Republicans opposed to the proposal combined with a limited legislative calendar are the reasons.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) have put forth what they term a “no amnesty” immigration plan. It would create a temporary worker program only after a series of border security initiatives were put in place over a two-year period.
The plan requires the president to certify the successful implementation of security measures along the most porous entry points into the U.S. before the guest worker program could begin.
Any attempt to pass legislation modeled along the lines of the Hutchison-Pence proposal, however, would require “some degree of compromise” within the Republican Party, said John Sides, political science professor at George Washington University.
Sides questioned whether the current political atmosphere would allow for any accommodation with House Republicans who place a far greater premium on enforcement than they do on any guest worker or “path to citizenship” arrangements.
The antipathy many House Republicans feel toward key provisions of the Senate immigration bill has been further inflamed by a series of “field hearings” held in various locations throughout the country this summer, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for a new coalition of Hispanic Americans opposed to illegal immigration called “You Don't Speak for Me.”
In Mehlman's estimation, those hearings have “re-enforced the reluctance on the part of House Republicans” to pass any legislation that corresponds too closely with the Senate's proposal.
Sides agreed and told Cybercast News Service that the field hearings are “designed to elicit anger and frustration with immigration” so that House Republicans are better positioned to justify legislation weighted in the direction of strict enforcement, while avoiding any guest worker features.
Pence's press secretary disagreed. Matt Lloyd said he felt the hearings were playing a constructive role and could help to spur meaningful action on Capitol Hill.
Pence is “optimistic,” Lloyd said, that – by highlighting the numerous challenges associated with illegal immigration – the hearings will generate a greater “appetite” for reform on the part of the American people.
Despite Pence's reported optimism, some prominent lawmakers have expressed reservations about the prospects for any immigration legislation between now and the end of the year.
“It is an uphill battle to pass immigration reform in this Congress,” said Robert Traynham, a spokesman for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Traynham points out that when all of the holidays are figured into the equation, there are less than two weeks of legislative sessions in September.
Moreover, Congress will also recess in October and will not reconvene until after the election.
“It is pretty much guaranteed that nothing will happen in this Congress,” Carlos Espinosa, press secretary for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), said.
John Keeley, communications director for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) was even more direct. Keeley believes the likelihood of any form of compromise modeled after the Hutchison-Pence bill is “less than zero.”
CIS is opposed to guest worker programs, Keeley said, because they translate into “permanent additions” to the population as opposed to temporary guests.
“We don't support amnesty or amnesty under the guise of a guest worker [program],” Keeley said. He was particularly strident in his criticism of the provision that would not allow illegal aliens who returned as guest workers to become citizens until they had worked in the U.S. for 17 years.
“We have a very lamentable track record with this type of labor program,” Keeley argued. “It was previously called slavery. We would have a sub-citizen class of workers who get to work and pay taxes, but they would have no political voice for almost two decades.”
Since undocumented workers must return to the U.S. before receiving the visa, Pence and Hutchison argue that their plan does not reward illegal behavior. Nevertheless, House Republicans feel anything short of a stringent law enforcement approach would amount to amnesty.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) participated in a recent field hearing held in El Paso, Texas, that focused attention on the “consultation” provision in Senate immigration bill.
Some House members say the plan would “cede control” of the border to Mexico. In an interview with Cybercast News Service Gohmert seized on a certain irony in the debate that he believes is being lost on proponents of the Senate's more lenient legislation.
“The great irony in all of this discussion is that people have come here from countries like Mexico because those countries have a great deal of corruption,” Gohmert said.
“[Those other countries] do not do as good a job as the United States in enforcing the law across the board. This country has done a better job in enforcing the laws across the board than any nation in history … they are not a nation of laws as we have been,” Gohmert added.
“Now we have this big influx [of people] who have been driven from their own countries because of poverty and corruption,” Gohmert continued. “They come here and began demanding that we ignore enforcement of our own laws, which ironically would make us more like the countries they have fled.”
Gohmert favors the enforcement provisions in the House Bill (H.R. 4437), which passed the full House last December by a vote of 239-182 in December.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is the sponsor of the bill, officially entitled the /ldblquote Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act” of 2005.
The Senate bill is the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 2611), sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). It passed in May, despite opposition from a majority of Republican senators.
Six House Democrats including Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), who have a more favorable view of the Senate legislation, also took part in the El Paso hearings.
For his part Reyes told Cybercast News Service in an email that the Senate bill made a “good faith effort” because it “combined three necessary components: strengthened border security; tough, strictly enforced sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants; and a guest worker program that offers a path to earned legalization for those who are willing to work hard, pay taxes, and participate as productive members of our society.”
Other policy advocates who are more favorably disposed to the Senate bill feel there is a possibility the legislation can be enacted.
“Congress has the ability to move quickly,” said Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
Waslin described Hutchison-Pence as an “unworkable compromise” and balked at the so-called “trigger mechanism” saying it was “highly problematic.” In her view, border security is not possible unless enforcement is combined with “new legal channels” for future workers and a legalization program for illegal aliens who are already in the country.
Until the U.S. establishes control of its southern border, however, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said he is unwilling to entertain initiatives that provide for “guest workers.”
“The sovereignty of the U.S. is at stake,” Poe said. “We have a colonization of America by other nations.”
Despite his objections, Poe does see a window of opportunity for immigration reform this year.
“There is a possibility it could be dealt with after election” Poe said. In any event, he indicated he would vote against the Hutchison-Pence compromise.
See Related Article:
House Panel: Senate Bill Would 'Cede Control' of Border