A Critical Look at What the Senators Said

By Jerry Kammer on June 28, 2013

Before yesterday's vote on the Senate immigration bill (which passed 68-32), many senators made final comments to wrap up the discussion. Here's a look at some of the more interesting comments, followed by some commentary:

Chuck Schumer: "If the bill passes, anyone who wants to try to cross the border illegally will have to get over an 18-foot steel pedestrian fence, past border agents standing every thousand feet apart from Brownsville to San Diego. Future waves of illegal immigration will be prevented if this bill is passed. And that’s not a wish. It's not a hope. It's a fact."

    Commentary: This is an absurd fantasy from someone who should know better. The bill belongs to Schumer more than anyone else. He wanted legalization more than anything else. To get it, he pretended to be determined to stop illegal immigration.

John McCain: "The key to this bill is not only the fencing on the border and the Border Patrol, but it's the 40 percent of the people ... who overstayed their visas. So what do we do about that? We dry up the magnet, and that's the E-Verify program which makes sure that every person that wants to come to this country illegally will know that that person cannot get a job here."

    Commentary: What's all wet is the idea that the bill's E-Verify will do the job. Its glaring weakness remains because Rob Portman was unable to advance an amendment that would have strengthened it tremendously. McCain, who supported the Portman amendment, should know that without it the bill is a recipe for future illegal immigration.

Lindsey Graham: "One of the critics of this bill, one of the organizations said the average illegal immigrant has a tenth grade education. Well, all I can tell you is you've got a United States senator who came from parents that didn't have a tenth grade education. To those who believe that how long you go to school determines your character, how much money is in your bank determines your worth, they really don't understand America."

    Commentary: The organization in question is probably CIS. No one at CIS has tied education to character. We have tied education to the likelihood of success in an American economy that increasingly rewards education, while making life more difficult for those without it. In an increasingly unequal America, parental education is a strong predictor of the educational success of their children. To deny that may be emotionally satisfying, but it's a weak basis for public policy.

Jeff Flake (Speaking of his youth on an Arizona ranch): "We worked alongside migrant labor, undocumented migrant labor, largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much more difficult than we endured. Since that time I have harbored a feeling of admiration and respect for those who have come to risk life and limb and sacrifice so much to provide a better life for themselves and their families."

    Commentary: This was a moving tribute to migrant workers who have long been important to Arizona. Their seasonal ebb and flow was part of the rhythm of borderlands life. They personified a benign phenomenon that took an abrupt turn for the worse as Arizona’s illegal immigrant population grew from about 89,000 in 1990 to about 560,000 in 2008.

Roy Blunt (On an earmark for a youth jobs program): "A billion and a half [dollars] for jobs for young people between 16 and 24. While jobs for young workers are a priority, it really has nothing to do with immigration reform. I think it had something to do with one of the additional votes."

    Commentary The earmarker was Bernie Sanders. After giving two stirring speeches denouncing the bill's provisions to displace American workers with foreign workers, Sanders decided to go for some populist pork. Having succeeded in inserting the earmark, he voted for the bill.