WASHINGTON – While the debate over immigration reform appears to have taken a backseat in the public’s consciousness with the number of White House controversies suddenly swirling around, it hasn’t escaped the attention of congressional conservatives who aim to kill it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has completed two mark-up sessions on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act with a third scheduled for Thursday. The panel thus far has considered 67 of the more than 300 amendments offered without altering or changing its basic thrust – requiring undocumented workers to seek provisional legal status that allows them to work and an opportunity to apply for permanent residency after 10 years.
That lack of change doesn’t sit well with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a panel member and an outspoken opponent of the legislation pieced together by a bipartisan group known as the Gang of Eight. Sessions declared he has no doubt that once they become aware of the scope of the legislation, “Americans’ opposition to the legislation will rise and that they will call on their lawmakers to do the same.”
“Americans believe in immigration but they believe in a reasonable flow of immigration that promotes assimilation and improved economic opportunity for both immigrants and citizens alike,” Sessions said. “It is perhaps the single issue in which both parties are most out of step with the people.”
Sessions offered an amendment that would have effectively capped the number of immigrants at 23 million over 10 years and placed a cap of 10 million on temporary workers — limiting the grants of legal status and work authorization to 33 million over the next decade. It failed 1-17.
“After today’s committee meeting there is no remaining dispute that the Gang of Eight’s proposal represents a staggering increase in the future flow of immigration — even as polling shows a majority of Americans believe current levels should be reduced,” Sessions said. “At a time when a record number of Americans are on welfare and have dropped out of the work force, our focus should instead be on helping struggling Americans return to the work force.”
Sessions and other conservatives are gearing up for what could be a protracted fight. On Tuesday, six House members declared their intention to mobilize against the legislation, maintaining that providing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally makes a mockery of the rule of law.
“When we ignore the rule of law we become like the country many immigrants are fleeing,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). “It leads to chaos. Ignore it and you disintegrate into the same type of chaos from which these people came.”
President Obama, who supports the legislation, is failing in his duty to “protect the nation and control its borders,” Gohmert said.
“We have to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed by people who want to destroy us,” Gohmert said, citing claims that radical Islamists are traveling to Mexico, blending in by assuming Spanish surnames and entering the U.S, undetected.
“We have an obligation in this country to make sure those who come in want to be a part of the greatest nation,” Gohmert said. “We have to first secure the border so only lawful people come in. Let’s secure the border and then we can work out an immigration package.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said the U.S. can’t afford to open its borders to all comers. As it is, 620,000 to 1.05 million immigrants have been granted American citizenship in each of the past five years. Only those capable of becoming “net tax producers” who “generate more than they consume” should be admitted.
“No one else comes close to being as generous as America is with its citizenship,” Brooks said. “The immigration issue is not about whether America is compassionate and generous — we are. The immigration issue is about whether America has the financial resources to accept all of the world’s immigrants into America. There are hundreds of millions of foreigners who, if they could, would immigrate to America.”
Brooks also said he “can’t ratify illegal conduct with my vote” by providing those in the country illegally with a path to citizenship.
“American citizens who have elected me to office to the U.S. Congress have done so because I support the rule of law,” he said. “The American citizens I know from all backgrounds – they support the rule of law. And that means you do not sacrifice your principles for political expediency. That’s the wrong direction to go. That undermines what makes America a great country.”
On the other hand, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a key consideration in negotiations over immigration reform is making sure “that the pathway to citizenship not be a false promise.”
To this point, Leahy said, the committee has worked in a bipartisan way to “resoundingly reject efforts to put up illusive preconditions that would be nothing more than obstacles to that reaching that goal.”
So the committee is moving ahead. In addition to the provision providing legal status to undocumented workers already here, the bill requires employers to implement the E-verify system to detect illegal workers, offers a new visa program for low-skilled workers and calls on the Department of Homeland Security to develop a $4.5 billion plan to gain effective control of the porous Mexican border.
On Tuesday, the committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member who opposes the bill, which requires the Department of Homeland Security to provide the U.S. Border Patrol with information about the status of student visas at all 329 ports of entry.
The provision, adopted unanimously, comes in reaction to information that an alleged accomplice to the Boston Marathon bombers had overstayed his student visa.
Also read: Immigrating to America Is Not an Entitlement