Friday, May 26, 2006

In Praise of Representative Sensenbrenner

Maybe the lack of bipartisanship wasn't such a bad thing. Consider this bipartisan effort in the Senate:

The Senate legislation, which also creates a guest worker program and seeks to tighten control of the border, passed 62 to 36. Twenty-three Republicans and one independent joined 38 Democrats to win approval of the bill in one of the few displays of bipartisanship on a major piece of legislation in years.

If the Senate bill's provisions were to make it into law, they would be the most substantial overhaul of immigration law in two decades. The key architects of the bill, Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, hailed the bipartisan coalition for withstanding a large number of amendments intended to sink the legislation.
The New York Times article goes on to describe the Democrat supporters of the Senate bill as follows:
But supporters of the Senate legislation said they hoped to keep their central principles intact. Democrats said they would not support legislation that did not place most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.

Can someone give me a justification of why that's the line in the sand? Exactly what did these 11 million people do to merit a path to citizenship that is anything other than follow the existing laws for legal immigration?

I don't think it can be done. I think Representative Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had it exactly right in his reaction to the bill that came out of committee in the Senate:
The bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27 repeats the mistakes made 20 years ago when we provided amnesty to illegal aliens and let unethical businesses off the hook. The Senate bill includes amnesty for the 11 to 12 million undocumented aliens in the US who have managed to elude the authorities. This is a slap in the face to those who are following the law and taking the right steps to enter this country. The Senate proposal absolves the wrongdoers and penalizes those who are obeying the law. I do not accept the claim made by some that this is not amnesty because among other things, illegal aliens would have to pay two fines of $1,000 each. It is offensive to me to think we have legislators who are considering selling US citizenship for $2,000. US citizenship is not for sale. It is a privilege bestowed upon those who appreciate its value, and who contribute to our nation by living in a manner that reflects the principles and ideology of being an American. When someone’s first step in this country is taken in direct violation of our laws, I cannot support a process that allows them to continue residing in the US, while others wait up to 20 years outside the US before they are able to take their first step into this country legally.

Let's hope he stands his ground during the negotiations between the House and Senate versions of the two bills. For my earlier posts on immigration, see this, this and this.


Daniel Kahn said...

Prof. Samwick:
Are the illegals jumping the queue or did they never stand a chance via legal methods in the first place?

If the latter is true (and I believe that is often the case), then does their presence serve to reduce the number of legal visas for Mexicans, Salvadoreans, and Guatemalans? (since these are the groups that the legislation is aimed at) If so, then does their presence affect net immigration quotas in the U.S. to move them upwards or downwards?

Saying that they are "slapping" the people who wait their turn to enter this country the "right way" sounds melodramatic to me. Most of our grandparents or great-grandparents didn't wait their turn.

Bottom line: unjust laws should be opposed vigorously, then changed. Without the first step, the second becomes a hell of a lot harder. If Sensenbrenner and the like was so concerned about those waiting in line, he would be upping the quotas by 50%. He's not, and therefore all this talk about fair play is a smokescreen. We weren't going to change Jim Crow laws out of the goodness of our hearts and we're not going to allow more immigrants b/c it's the right thing to do. Apply pressure and legislation will emerge (and thank god for that).

PS: relax immigration restrictions by 400,000 per year and how much of the SS shortfall disappears?

Arun Khanna said...

It's not political science, it's politics.

Andrew said...


In my earlier posts, I argued that the legal caps should be raised. I also noted my concerns about people who want to be here exclusively for economic reasons, rather than fleeing the persecution that characterized much (though not all) of the earlier waves of immigration.

But even if the caps were zero, that would not make them "unjust," in the sense of people being denied their rights. The current lawful residents of a country get to decide how many additional residents they would like to accommodate. No citizen of a foreign country has the right to dictate to us that we must accommodate a particular number.

The answer to your question about Social Security is here. An additional 400,000 immigrants lowers the 75-year actuarial deficit from 2.02 to 1.76 percent of payroll and the final year (2080) deficit from 5.38 to 4.88 percent of taxable payroll.