It’s always good to keep in mind that half of the job of “lawmaking” is proposing dead-end bills or amendments designed to score political points against your opposition. Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy steps up to the plate with a “sense of the Senate” exercise in moral preening:
Congress is set to vote on Thursday on what some have called an “unprecedented” right that would allow immigrants easier access to relocate to the United States, according to new legislation offered by a Democratic senator. The legislation, which is being offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) as an amendment to a larger bill governing nuclear safety, would prohibit the U.S. government from barring any individual from entering the country based on their religion.
The bill comes amid a fierce national debate about immigration to America, particularly for individuals coming from Muslim-majority nations. Critics of the Obama administration’s refugee plan, which would permit up to 10,000 Syrians into the country, maintain that there are not enough oversight measures in place to ensure that immigrants are not linked to terrorists or various terror organizations, such as the Islamic State.
The bill, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, would express Congress’ sense that “the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this Nation was founded.” The legislation is a direct amendment to current U.S. laws already on the books.
Is it ever. Under long-established American law, Congress and the executive have plenary power to determine who shall and shall not enter the country, whether as a tourist, a temporary worker, or an immigrant — for any reason, or no reason at all. Even the New York Times understands this:
When Donald J. Trump called on Monday for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” many legal scholars were aghast and said that such a ban would certainly be struck down by courts as blatantly unconstitutional.
But on Tuesday Mr. Trump clarified his proposal, saying that he would exclude only foreign Muslims, not Muslim American citizens who travel abroad and then seek to come home. That distinction, legal specialists said, made it far less likely the courts would strike it down. “If a person is a Muslim, goes overseas and comes back, they can come back,” Mr. Trump said on ABC. “They’re a citizen. That’s different.”
Several legal scholars who specialize in immigration, international and constitutional law said a policy of excluding all foreign Muslims from visiting the United States would still be “ludicrously discriminatory and overwrought,” as Gerald L. Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, put it. But he said that it was far from clear that the Supreme Court would block it. Under a provision of immigration law, Congress has already delegated to the president broad power to issue a proclamation indefinitely blocking “the entry of any class of aliens into the United States” that he or she thinks would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” No president has ever used that power in such a sweeping way, but the text provides a potential statutory basis for a President Trump to carry out his plan, specialists said.
The fact is, the government “discriminates” all the time — Jimmy Carter banned Iranian students from entering the U.S. during the hostage crisis, for example. President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law in 1882, and Roosevelt’s order relocating “all persons of Japanese ancestry” to internment camps during World War II was upheld by the Supreme Court in late 1944 by a 6-3 vote. Immigration is not subject to the history of the American civil-rights movement.
Leahy’s posturing will go nowhere, of course, but it was never intended to:
Congressional critics of the legislation warn that the amendment would facilitate an unprecedented right to immigration that has never existed under U.S. law. “The amendment is intended to be a response to Trump’s statement and thus the category of immigration at the heart of it is clearly immigration from the Muslim world,” said a congressional source apprised of the legislation.
“This amendment will establish the progressive goal of creating a right to global migration, their solution to global income inequality,” the source said. “This is not simply a slippery slope. This is ripping open Pandora’s box. If you can establish that we have no right to consider religious beliefs, then you could help establish we have no right to consider a candidate’s age, skill, income, or country of origin.”