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Amnesty on the Floor

Congress is unlikely to send President Bush any legislation this year that would contain both components of the administration’s radical new immigration proposal: an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and an open-ended guest-worker program.

Given the overwhelming public hostility to amnesties, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an ally of the president on immigration policy, probably had it right when he told a Lexington, Ky., radio audience on Jan. 15 that he didn’t think the president’s plan would pass as long as amnesty remains part of it.

Opposition to the amnesty component of the president’s plan will be strongest in the House of Representatives, where there are enough legislators—mostly Republican—committed to a more modern and moderate immigration policy to sink any legislation that would grant legal status to illegal aliens without requiring that they first return home and apply to enter the United States legally like everyone else.

Although a principled opposition to the president’s amnesty proposal would be squarely in line with the wishes of American voters (not to mention the rule of law), many Republican legislators will be reluctant to oppose a major new policy initiative launched by a Republican administration at the start of an election year.

On the other hand, in spite a recent finding by the Pew Research Center that three out of four rank-and-file Democrats want tighter immigration policies, Democrats in Congress will probably remain generally united in opposition to the president’s plan on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough on amnesty. Gaining Democratic Party support for the initiative, particularly from its powerful ethnic-identity wing, would require removing even the few feeble restrictions on the amnesty the White House has suggested—a move that would kill the initiative with House moderates.

Because it will be easier for the White House to sell a guest-worker plan to the public than an amnesty plan, however, immigration moderates should be concerned by the very real threat of a bad guest-worker bill making it through Congress and back to the president’s desk this session. Lawmakers who might otherwise be unenthusiastic about amnesties and massive immigration in general might still fall for the bogus claim that American businesses “need” cheap foreign labor.

Especially worrisome is the possibility that immigration moderates in Congress, presented with the president’s radical guest-worker plan, but with all the bad amnesty stuff stripped away, might be tempted to take the “compromise” as a victory and vote for it.

Even so, it is still fairly unlikely that a straight amnesty-free guest-worker program would get through Congress, as unions and pro-worker Democrats and Republicans—especially in the Senate—will resist any plan that essentially turns U.S. immigration policy over to business interests and New World Order extremists.The upshot is that I do not think we are going to see any of the president’s proposal succeed this year.


Congressman Tom Tancredo represents the Sixth District of Colorado and heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.

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