June 5, 2007

June 5, 2007 | Commentary on

Presidential Wrongs: How about cracking down on illegals, not conservatives?

If President Bush were as intent on cracking down on illegal immigration as he is on insulting conservatives, we'd have a secure border by now.

He attacked conservatives in a speech to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., for not rubber-stamping his secretly negotiated agreement on legislation that would make the most dramatic change to immigration law in the last 40 years. The president's tone was aggressive, disrespectful, and dismissive of conservative assertions that his deal amounts to amnesty for illegal aliens. True conservatives, who believe in the rule of law, must tell our nation's chief law-enforcement officer, "Mr. President, with all due respect, you are wrong. This bill is amnesty."

The administration's high-volume rhetoric reveals a desperate attempt to build a presidential legacy. Why else would the administration participate in closed-door drafting sessions lead by liberal icon Sen. Ted Kennedy, then attempt to railroad the bill through the Senate in one week? Conservative senators balked at the prospect of passing a massive bill with no hearings, no expert testimony and no opportunity for citizens to read the bill. The Heritage Foundation posted a searchable copy of the bill on our website so that conservatives could rebut the president's absurd accusation that critics "haven't read the bill."

We have, and it's clear that the Kennedy-Bush partnership has yielded a markedly liberal approach to the immigration problem: amnesty for the estimated 12 million people currently working and residing illegally within the non-secure borders of the United States of America. But why be surprised? The last two times that Kennedy and Bush collaborated, we wound up federalizing education under No Child Left Behind and creating a multibillion-dollar entitlement known as the Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

According to the president those who dare say the bill is amnesty are trying to "scare the American people" with "empty political rhetoric." The fact is, these people are working and living in the United States illegally, some as recently as five months ago. If they had been apprehended at the border, they would have been in deportation proceedings. Yet under the president's bill, they would be rewarded for evading our border control or overstaying their old visa with a newly created amnesty visa. It's hardly "empty rhetoric" to call the bill amnesty - it's old-fashioned honesty. And the American people should be scared of a plan that rewards people who have flouted a myriad of immigration laws.

The president claims his plan isn't amnesty because sanctions apply before one qualifies for a permanent "Z Visa." The administration calls it a "plea bargain," yet it seems more like a slap on the wrist when you study the president's assertions of what constitutes punishment. To qualify, illegal aliens must "admit they violated the law." Yawn. Then they must "pay a meaningful penalty." The bill calls for a series of fees that add up to a few thousand dollars to get a Z Visa.

These aliens must then "pass a strict background check," "hold a job," "maintain a clean record," and "eventually learn English." This sounds like the lawbreaker was given a pardon, not a plea bargain, with minimal penalties. If a man broke into your house, how would you feel if the judge punishes the guy by allowing him to stay at your house, but he has to pay rent, sign an admission of guilt and stay away from your children?

This amnesty deal also is unfair to the people who made the mistake of respecting the rule of law. Any foreign national waiting in line legally to come to the U.S. would have been better off sneaking in illegally and finding an under-the-table job. They would be eligible for this program. The good conservative-minded foreigners who followed the letter of the law are being punished, because they were dumb enough to actually believe the rule of law would be respected.

President Bush accused conservatives of not wanting to do "what's right for America." With all due respect, he and Sen. Kennedy are wrong about consequences and effects of comprehensive immigration-reform legislation on America. This bill will forever change America's immigration laws to the detriment of every law-abiding citizen and foreign national who wants to legally immigrate to the United States.

This bipolar and bipartisan immigration deal has many conflicting and confusing provisions, yet it's clear that this approach is bad for America. Mr. President, one thing is obvious to those of us who have read the bill. It's amnesty.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First appeared in the National Review Online