Magazine article The American Conservative

Amnesty Impasse

Magazine article The American Conservative

Amnesty Impasse

Article excerpt

Bush's immigration bill bogs down.

ON MARCH 6, federal agents raided a leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, arresting 361 illegal immigrants. The news hounded President Bush during his diplomatic tour of Latin America. Guatemalan President Oscar Berger denounced the raid and personally asked Bush to halt the deportations. Mexican President Felix Calderon similarly chastised Bush, saying that U.S. border policy is "absurd." Bush countered with a bold promise: "My pledge to you and your government, but more important to the people of Mexico, is I'll work as hard as I possibly can to pass comprehensive immigration reform."

But pushing that legislation through the 110th Congress may be more difficult than the administration anticipates.

When Democrats took control of Congress, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that the president saw "new opportunities for comprehensive immigration reform." Assuming that comprehensive reform meant amnesty, border hawks were despondent. The most visible restrictionist in Congress, Rep. Tom Tancredo lamented, "We will fight it, we will lose. It will go to the Senate, it will pass. The president will sign it. And it will happen quickly..."

Asked about that post-election despair, Tancredo press aide Carlos Espinosa chuckles, "Obviously a lot has changed since then." "They have stalled the process," he says of the current state of play, "And that is working in our favor."

A rewritten version of last session's McCain-Kennedy immigration bill has been promised but has not been introduced. McCain's aides began circulating rumors that he may not want his name attached to a bill unpopular with the conservative grassroots while he's campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. Confirming that suspicion, the New York Times reported, "as he left Iowa, Mr. McCain said he was reconsidering his views on how the immigration law might be changed." Frustrated that disagreements were slowing the process, Kennedy elected to proceed on his own, promising to re-introduce legislation approved last year by the Judiciary Committee but never scheduled for a floor vote.

Senators have been meeting in evening sessions to discuss compromise bills. The White House dispatched Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to grease the skids. But one Republican aide says that pressure from the White House "is not having the impact it once had. It's called being a lame duck."

The major sticking points revolve around the size and scope of the guest-worker program and the details of a path to citizenship for guest workers and illegal residents. But the pace of the process has caused some Democrats to wonder whether the Senate's eyes for immigration reform aren't bigger than its stomach: "I am now of the opinion that we may have reached too far in doing the comprehensive bill," said Dianne Feinstein.

Bush is counting on his No Child Left Behind point man: "[there is] a very good chance of getting the [immigration] bill out of the Senate, because Senator Kennedy is one of the best legislative senators there is..." But the Massachusetts liberal faces an uphill climb: in the closely divided Senate, Kennedy's bill, as currently written, would likely lose support from red-state Democrats like Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester.

His efforts are further complicated by renewed lobbying efforts. The AFL-CIO is pressuring Kennedy to apply the Davis-Bacon Act, which would mandate that guestworkers receive "local prevailing wages and benefits. …

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