Why the Immigration Bill Died in the Senate — and Will Keep Dying

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

Posted on June 12, 2007, Printed on June 13, 2007http://www.alternet.org/story/53843/


Last Friday, a small but vocal group of hardliners hijacked the
national debate over immigration and, in all likelihood, derailed the
effort to reform a system that Americans from across the political
spectrum agree is dysfunctional. (George Bush has said he hopes to restart the negotiations, but most observers agree that a deal is not likely.)

The bill — which began as a compromise that everyone hated — was killed
in the Senate, smothered under the weight of a flurry of unpopular amendments
offered up by a small group of Senators, including some of the
chamber’s most reactionary, before the national debate was even under

…Immigration hardliners’ views of immigrants themselves are harsher than Main Street’s. According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, Americans’ attitudes toward immigrants from Latin American and Asia are more positive
now than in the 1990s, “even as concern over the problems associated
with immigration has increased.” Most people view both groups as “very
hard working and having strong family values.” Pew notes that
“Impressions of Latin American immigrants, in particular, have grown
much more positive, with 80 percent describing them as very hard
working compared with 63 percent nearly a decade ago.”

Immigration hardliners are not only Republicans — there are Democrats who are indistinguishable on the issue in rhetoric as well as substance — but only one party is captive to their views.

Amnesty: a handy fiction

All of these data point to a serious problem for immigration hardliners:
Although there remain very serious differences about the specifics
regarding immigration, most Americans favor at least the broad
principles of comprehensive reform. The hardliners can’t win an honest
debate on the issue, and apparently they know it. That’s why they
insist that the Senate proposals were based on offers of “amnesty.”

It’s no more accurate to call the measure contemplated last week in the
Senate an “amnesty bill” then it is to call it a rhinoceros; while an
amnesty implies simply granting people legal status, the Senate
proposal would have required undocumented immigrants who can prove they
have been working and paying taxes in the country for an extended time
to then fork over $9,000 in fines and application fees (for a family of
four) and that would only get them to the back of the line, with a
four-year “Z” visa. Then, after those four years were up, the head of
the household could return to his or her native country and file an
additional application — paying an additional $4,000 penalty in
addition to application fees. If they pass a health screening, an
English proficiency test and another test of American civics, then they
become legal. But only after the backlog of existing applicants is
cleared — no “cutting in line.” All of that for people who have
committed a misdemeanor


In fact, a principal reason that there was so little passion on the part of the
compromise’s supporters was that it had a number of provisions in it
that were designed to mollify the hardliners but ended up creating a
bill that alienated potential support from the center and from the
left. Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas
Society/Council of the Americas, told the New York Times that the bill had been “born an orphan in terms of popular support.”

Trying to bring immigration hardliners around was always a fool’s errand:
They’ve shown time and again that they won’t accept the humane,
comprehensive approach to immigration that most Americans favor.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.


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