An Autopsy of the Senate Immigration Bill, Pt. 2: What Can We Learn?

By Stanley Renshon, February 19, 2014

Read Part One

The working assumption of too many members of Congress, and this was certainly true for the Gang of Eight, is that when it comes to immigration, they know what's best for the country. And if that runs counter to the real immigration enforcement and lower immigration numbers that Americans continually say they want, well, too bad. Their thinking seems to be "We'll just frame the bill in ways that make it seem to respond to their wishes, when in fact it doesn't. And we'll put in a few high-value symbolic items, like having those gaining amnesty be required to pay back taxes, even though we know those gaining amnesty won't really have to do so."

That Olympian "we know best" attitude coupled with an end-justifies-the-means mentality was the "basic fault" of their effort. Arrogance, duplicity, and disdain of the public's repeatedly stated preferences are poor building blocks for such an important bill, one that goes to the heart of America's self-identity.

So, one large lesson that ought to have been learned from the 2013 efforts is that whatever bills do eventually come out of the House, and I think down the road there will be some legislative efforts, they should start with basic transparency and honesty.

If the bills are going to legalize some portion of the illegal migrant population, say so directly. Call it what it is: amnesty. That at least has the virtue of recognizing that people have broken our laws, that the country is offering to put that aside, and setting up an expectation that in return those receiving amnesty really will have to earn it. And I don't mean by just learning English.

In that respect I like the honesty of liberal columnist Eugene Robinson:

I use the word amnesty because, let's face it, that's what we're talking about. What else would be the point of immigration reform if not to give some legal status to the millions of men, women, and children who are here without papers? If you assume that we bring them out of the shadows, and if you assume we do not drive them all out of the country, then you're talking about some kind of amnesty that allows them to stay.

If any House immigration bills are to gain the trust of the American people, enforcement first must be a fact, not a slogan. That means that the three cores of immigration enforcement – workplace verification, and expedited removal for those who violate American immigration laws – and setting up a basic, standard set of criteria for those who wish to change their immigration status, one much less subject to politically expedient "discretion".

Yet, if any House immigration bill is going to fulfill its intention to be a real reform bill, it is going to have to come to grips with a key subject, one rarely mentioned much less discussed or debated: the question of limits.

Next: An Autopsy of the Senate Immigration Bill, Pt. 3: The Question of Limits