What Others Are Saying

Cherokee Tribune
May 31, 2006

Immigration reform: Isakson still has the right idea

An immigration-reform bill supported by the president was passed by the Senate last week, but from all appearances it could be late summer, if then, before that bill is reconciled with a much tougher immigration measure passed earlier by the House. And it's clear, at least from this vantage point, that the key to blending the competing versions of the bill into one lays with the approach advocated by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)

Isakson has advocated that the final version of the bill should stipulate that once the bill is passed, the borders must be certified as secure before any of the bill's other components can be enacted. His approach also has the support of Georgia's other Senator, Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and of most conservatives in the Republican-controlled House.

The Senate rejected Isakson's approach earlier this month, but it picked up considerable support - 40 votes - along the way. So there's reason to think that if the House sticks to its guns on making secure borders the centerpiece of the compromise bill, the Senate might realize it is that approach or no bill, and that a sufficient number of Senators might then support such a compromise.

And it might take such acquiescence by the Senate to get House conservatives to overcome their distaste for the Senate bill's "path to citizenship" provisions for guest workers. And indeed, there is much to criticize in the Senate bill regarding them. Under that bill, for example:

  • Illegal aliens and their children would be eligible for in-state college tuition. But if you or your child wants to attend a college in another state, the higher out-of-state tuition still applies.
  • All temporary guest workers would have to be paid the "prevailing wage" - that is, whatever the prevailing - i.e., higher - union wage is. U.S. citizens would not enjoy that luxury - unless they belong to a union.
  • U.S. agricultural workers can be fired for any reason. That wouldn't be true of agricultural guest workers should the Senate bill pass. They could only be fired for "just cause."
  • The federal government would be forbidden from taking any information that is provided in an application for amnesty form and using it in national-security or criminal investigations. And any federal agent who did so would be fined $10,000. While it's unlikely that any terrorist or murderer or child-abuser would ever be stupid enough to disclose it on such a form, it's just as stupid to ask those who are charged with protecting us to turn a blind eye to any useful information they come across in the course of doing their job.
  • U.S. officials would be required to consult with Mexican officials before erecting any more fences along the U.S. side of the border.

  • Perhaps most disturbing of all, the Senate bill would make illegal alien guest workers eligible for Social Security. That's right - with our Social Security system facing bankruptcy just around the corner, the Senate wants to extend not just retirement benefits to illegal workers here, but survivor benefits to their children. Its passage would have a similar debilitating effect on most other social "safety net" programs.

So it's no wonder that Isakson, Chambliss and many others who seek meaningful immigration reform voted against the president's bill.

"The people of this country are looking to us to secure our borders to improve national security and to restore credibility to our immigration system," Isakson said afterward. "With the passage of this bill, the Senate is telling the American people that we should continue to give a wink and a nod to those who would cross our borders illegally. That is a terrible message to send and that is why I voted 'No.'"

Then there's the prediction by experts at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., that the Senate's bill would result in an inflow of some 66 million Hispanic immigrants over the next 20 years. It's easy to imagine the transformational effect that would have on our country. That's why it's crucially important that the "path to citizenship" provisions of the final version of whatever immigration bill passes include must stress assimilation, not separatism. The path to citizenship for Hispanic guest workers should be just as rigorous as that for any other aspiring citizen in terms of learning about U.S. history, laws and the English language.

It's obvious that there is much that is odious in the Senate bill. Likewise, an argument can be made that the House bill goes overboard in the other direction. We believe it is crucial that Congress pass an immigration-reform bill this year, to prevent the issue from being demagogued any more than it already has been. We also need an improved guest-worker setup, one that allows safe movement back and forth across the border for sufficient numbers of Hispanic workers, who after all, have made themselves vital to our economy.

But the best starting place for a final compromise is to return to Isakson's proposal: Make securing the border the top priority, which in itself would be a big step toward letting the problem take care of itself.