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America’s Misguided Immigration Debate

A debate on immigration is beginning in the United States Senate, which will take up several proposals. These include a hateful bill – which the House of Representatives has already approved – that provides for the construction of a wall along the US-Mexican border and makes unauthorized entry into the US a felony.

The US Senate will also consider a bill co-authored by Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator John McCain, which proposes stronger border enforcement, a temporary workers program with a path to residency and citizenship, and legalization for people already in the US without papers. Another idea is to require anyone in the US wanting to regularize their immigration status to go home and wait in line there.

This last component is largely rhetoric; it is hard to imagine any Mexican already in the US voluntarily returning to, say, Zacatecas to wait patiently in line for a new visa. President George W. Bush has been skirting the question ever since he committed himself to an immigration agreement with Mexico when he visited President Vicente Fox in Guanajuato almost exactly five years ago.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter’s compromise proposal. Specter’s proposal also provides for reinforced security at the border, as well as a six-year non-renewable Temporary Workers Program without a path to residency, although it would allow unauthorized immigrants to remain in the US with a new, non-immigrant status. The latter status may or may not include a path to residency and citizenship; fudging the issue may be a negotiating tactic to avoid debate over whether this is a form of disguised amnesty (which, fortunately, to a certain extent, it is).