July 2, 2006
By Robert Rector
Think the immigration debate is mainly
about giving amnesty to the 10 million illegals already here? Think
again. Amnesty is a drop in the bucket. The real issue is the
staggering increase in legal immigration hidden in the
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, recently passed in the
By a ratio of about 4-1, U.S. voters would prefer less
immigration, not more. But the Senate bill would do just the
opposite. The original bill would have allowed as many as 100
million people to legally immigrate to the United States over the
next 20 years. We're talking about a seismic shift of unprecedented
Facing criticism, the Senate has amended the bill - which now
would allow "only" 61 million new immigrants. That still more than
doubles the current legal immigration rate, from 1 million a year
now to 2.5 million.
Current law would let 19 million legal immigrants enter the United
States over the next 20 years; the Senate immigration bill would
add an extra 42 million.
Why such extraordinary growth? Consider how the new law would
Under the Senate bill, immigrants could enter or attain lawful
status within the country through nine channels. In each channel,
immigrants would gain permanent residence and the right to become
Current law visas: About 950,000 persons now get
permanent-residence visas every year under current law. Over 20
years, the inflow of immigrants through this channel would be 19
Amnesty: The bill would grant amnesty to roughly
10 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S.
Spouses/children of illegal immigrants given
amnesty: Illegals who got amnesty could bring their
spouses and children into the country as legal permanent residents
with the opportunity for full citizenship. The resulting number of
spouses and children who would enter the United States? At least 5
"Family chain" migration: Today's law limits the
number of kinship visas for secondary family members, such as adult
brothers and sisters. The Senate bill would raise the cap on such
secondary family immigration from around 230,000 to 480,000 per
year, bringing in 5 million new immigrants over 20 years.
Temporary guest workers for life: The amended
Senate bill would let 200,000 people enter through the guest-worker
program each year. Over 20 years, that works out to a total inflow
of 4 million. The "guest workers" aren't temporary at all, but
could stay in the U.S. permanently and become citizens.
Spouses/children of guest workers: Guest workers
could bring their spouses and children to the United States as
permanent residents, adding another 4.8 million entrants over 20
Worker visas for skilled specialty occupations:
The Senate bill would initially double the number of specialty
workers who could enter the U.S., and would then allow the number
to increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year. These workers
would be permitted to request permanent residence, and, in most
cases, would be able to stay in the U.S. for life. More than 5.5
million legal immigrant workers could enter under these provisions
over the next two decades.
Spouses/children of specialty workers: Specialty
workers could bring their spouses and children to the United States
as permanent residents, adding another 3 million entrants over 20
Refugee women: Under the bill, an unlimited
number of women who fear they may undergo "harm" as a result of
their sex may enter the U.S. as refugees and become citizens. The
numbers who would enter under this open-ended provision is
uncertain, but 1 million over 20 years is a reasonable
Parents of naturalized citizens: The Senate bill
would greatly increase the number of naturalized citizens, each
would have an unlimited right to bring their parents into the
country as legal permanent residents. The resulting number of
parents who would enter as permanent legal residents? Around 3.5
million over 20 years.
If the Senate bill became law, foreign-born immigrants would rise
to around 18 percent of the total U.S. population, an immigration
level far higher than at any previous time in U.S. history.
Many in this looming tidal wave of immigration would be
low-skilled individuals who will impose great social and economic
costs on the nation. For example, more than half of the 10 million
illegals who will get amnesty are high-school dropouts; on average,
each immigrant dropout will cost the U.S. taxpayers $85,000 over
the course of his life.
In sum, the Senate bill would bring profound change, transforming
the United States socially, economically and politically. Within
two decades, the character of our country would differ dramatically
from what exists today.
Americans need to ask: Is that what we want?
Robert Rector is
a Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage
First appeared in the Rocky Mountain News
Think the immigration debate is mainly about giving amnesty to the 10 million illegals already here? Think again. Amnesty is a drop in the bucket. The real issue is the staggering increase in legal immigration hidden in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, recently passed in the Senate.
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