Congress is going to take another shot at a comprehensive immigration bill next week. This is mostly because President Bush wants them to. But no good will come of this, unless it’s a total revolt of the Right against Bush.
No sensible immigration bill can be written in the current political climate. There is way too much hysteria coming from the Right. As it says in an editorial in today’s New York Times:
Congressâ€™s struggle with immigration reform has been a horror movie, with one false ending after another, and there is still no telling what the monster will look like when the lights finally come up. People who have been watching through their fingers are right to be worried; the bill was harsh and has gotten harsher, a reflection of the rigidity of those who have vowed to kill any reform they consider amnesty.
Republicans are playing immigration bill poker, upping the ante by tossing harsher and harsher amendment proposals into the pot.
Lindsey Graham, who has spoken movingly about the need for reasonable, decent treatment of immigrants, especially immigrant families, has been trying to take the debate back to the dark days of Representative Jim Sensenbrennerâ€™s anti-immigrant bill, with an amendment that would turn people who overstay their visas into criminals subject to minimum 60-day prison sentences.
It seems likely that Mr. Graham, who is one of the â€œgrand bargainersâ€ and is up for re-election next year, has been burned by the uproar on the hard right and feels the need to act tough, lest he be saddled â€” as Representative Steve King of Iowa has urged â€” with the scarlet letter A, for amnesty.
Any comprehensive immigration bill written by the current Congress is likely to be a monstrosity that future congresses will have dismantle.
CNN reports that rightie bloggers are in maximum snit mode, which of course we all knew. Some of them are asking Congress to secure the borders first, before going on to other immigration measures. That might not be a bad idea. Although normally I’d advocate tackling an issue comprehensively, if that’s not possible now (and it isn’t) it would be better to bite of whatever piece of the bill Congress is able to chew. And rightie fantasies about the Open Borders Lobby aside, securing the borders is, in principle, something both parties can agree on.
How to secure the borders is another matter, of course. But even a stupid border security bill would be less damaging to the nation, long-term, than whatever legislative atrocity the comprehensive immigration bill is likely to become now.
Then, we can hope, in a little while the hysteria will die down and Dems will have a larger majority in Congress. And then maybe it will be possible to create an immigration policy that is not a reflection of our worst xenophobic impulses.