Several Senate Democrats unveiled their immigration overhaul proposal Thursday. The first thing to say about it is that it is proof that lawmakers have learned the lessons of the failed efforts of 2006 and 2007 to achieve a comprehensive immigration fix.
After a popular backlash torpedoed President George W. Bush's push for an overhaul, the Democrats have decided that the only way to get political support for making the kind of broad-based immigration changes they seek is to deal with the border enforcement end of the issue first.
Proponents of immigration reform acknowledge that we need to meet clear and concrete
benchmarks before we can finally ensure that America's borders are secure and effectively deal
with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States. These benchmarks must be
met before action can be taken to adjust the status of people already in the United States illegally...
So the Democrats propose beefing up agencies like the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to make the border less porous and to step up internal enforcement.
Senate Democrats also want a secure Social Security card containing biometric information that would be necessary for employment. And in a kind of Orwellian touch, they propose the creation of a new data system called the Biometric Enrollment, Locally-stored Information, and Electronic Verification of Employment or BELIEVE.
The acronym of this system appears to be an appeal to Americans to suspend the cynicism born of the flawed implementation of the 1986 immigration law changes which gave legal status to millions of illegal immigrants but never delivered on promises of enforcement. It is the politicians' cry for voters to put their faith in the new system and proposal.
After border and employment enforcement are significantly improved, then the Democrats' proposal envisions the deployment of what remains the most controversial part of an immigration overhaul, a path to legal status for the nearly 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Accordingly, this proposal not only includes well-designed statutory provisions that will strengthen future enforcement, but also includes a broad-based registration program that requires all illegal immigrants living in the U.S. to come forward to register, be screened, and, if eligible, complete other requirements to earn legal status, including paying taxes. These criteria are intended to exclude individuals who threaten public safety or national security and to ensure that those individuals taking advantage of the program intend to stay in the U.S., integrate into society, and become productive, taxpaying members of the community.
It being an election year, the smart money in Washington is betting that the Senate Democrats' proposal won't go anywhere this year. But it will allow Democrats to claim the higher ground in contrast to the new Arizona law that cracks down on illegal immigrants.
And it also allows Democrats to rally Hispanic voters in what is otherwise expected to be a very difficult mid-term election year for Congress' majority party.