I've never been more proud to work at The Heritage Foundation than I was this past Monday.
I was seated at a conference table with 31 of the brightest, most analytical and highly principled people I've ever known as we dissected and analyzed various ripple effects of the Senate's devastating immigration-reform proposal. After spending an entire weekend digging through a document that had remained secret for so long, Heritage was further scrutinizing it -- and doing what many in the U.S. Senate refused to do: Reveal the truth.
Heritage received the "secret" text -- one that would fundamentally change the American landscape -- around two o'clock in the morning on Saturday. Within hours it was posted online at heritage.org for all to read. The next day, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., mentioned this on the Senate floor:
"For the sake of open deliberation and public education, The Heritage Foundation, which got a copy of the bill somehow, is making this legislation, in draft form, publicly available to encourage widespread debate and discussion. Thank goodness they did make it public … It's an opportunity, really, for the American people to know what's involved."
The document had been developed behind closed doors -- away from public scrutiny. It was crafted far from the eyes of ordinary Americans. Once Heritage experts read the drafts, it became painfully clear that our government is considering a measure that would provide amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and create multiple problems for how we deal with those pouring over the border in the future.
Heritage experts crunched numbers throughout the weekend, weighing the cost both in dollars and in what it would mean to sacrifice the rule of law. We provided analysis through blogging on heritage.org and through columns to sites such as National Review Online, where Heritage constitutional scholar Matthew Spalding built a devastating case for why the measure amounted to amnesty. Again, Heritage did what the Senate failed to do: Inform the public.
But Heritage didn't stop there. My colleagues continued to scrutinize every line of the bill, researched past proposals, discussed alternative measures, churned out documents on the many problems of the legislation and how to solve them. Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants will eventually make them eligible for welfare, Social Security, Medicare and other government benefits. Senior research fellow Robert Rector gave a preliminary estimate of the cost of amnesty to the taxpayer -- a whopping $400,000 per person over the average lifespan and age of entry for the illegal immigrant. Rector called the bill "a blank check to illegal immigrants written at taxpayer expense." Again, Heritage did something the Senate refused to do: Think critically.
One of the many tragic results of this bill is that people will begin to flood over the border in numbers yet unseen in this country to register for the probationary period. An illegal immigrant needs only two affidavits (one of which can be from a family member) stating that he or she has been here and illegally working before January of this year. Any alien now in custody for entering the country illegally, or anyone caught crossing the border, will actually be offered the opportunity to fill out the paperwork to be put on the road to the entire package of U.S. benefits. Some 12 million people are estimated to take this first step to becoming a protected member of the United States on some level. They will immediately be able to enjoy free emergency health care, free public education and free welfare programs for children.
Another tragedy is the bogus background check. The federal government has only 24 hours to produce criminal records for probationary applicants before the protection status is granted. Just 24 hours! In many cases, it takes longer than that for a background check when a U.S. citizen is arrested. Suppose three or five or 10 days later, a prior conviction is discovered? Too bad. That person is long gone, with a protection card in hand.
Perhaps this helps explain the secrecy that surrounded this bill -- at least, until Heritage got a hold of it. According to Rector, "Any illegal immigrant during the next two years who enters the country and claims amnesty cannot be arrested, detained or deported. It's essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for future illegal immigrants."
Our discussion around the table kept referring back to a previously written Heritage paper on principles of immigration reform. Government must be founded on core principles. When it isn't, matters can spiral out of control easily. In demanding that the Senate act on core principles, Heritage did what the Senate has neglected to do in writing the immigration bill: Use principles as a foundation for policy.
"First Principles" is a rally cry often heard at Heritage's headquarters. We'll continue insisting on them -- and you can rest assured that we'll keep you apprised of the latest developments in the immigration debate.
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.