SEN. JOHN CORNYN’S134-page amendment to the “Gang of Eight’s” immigration bill moved this week to the center of the Senate’s floor debate on the overall measure. That’s worrying, because the amendment is more likely to kill reform than to advance it.
It would toughen the conditions for demonstrable border security needed to unlock the 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is set out in the Gang of Eight’s bill. Most supporters of reform agree that the citizenship path must be accompanied by measures that will discourage future illegal immigration. The 1986 “amnesty,” as critics derided it, was followed by an influx of undocumented workers; it didn’t solve the problem.
But the amendment does not improve a proposal that already contained serious border-security provisions. Instead, it requires that goals set in the bill, including a biometric exit system at airports and seaports and apprehension rates for illegal immigrants of at least 90 percent, be achieved before registered provisional immigrants can gain green cards. In so doing, it could prevent normalization of their status indefinitely. If the amendment is rejected, Mr. Cornyn (R-Tex.) and other long-standing opponents of legalization may have the pretext they are hoping for to oppose reform.
Mr. Cornyn’s amendment imagines a world in which the 90 percent standard for apprehensions can be measured precisely and progress in apprehending those who cross the border illegally can be expected to improve in a straight line. In fact, the number of border crossers cannot be measured with precision, and therefore neither can the percentage of those crossing illegally who are apprehended. Over the past few years, border security has improved markedly, and further progress is possible. But by turning a goal into a mandate, Mr. Cornyn would obstruct the undocumented from receiving legal status without making the border more secure.
The Gang of Eight understood that improved security is essential but is just one tool to discourage future illegal immigration. A complete package has to allow sufficient legal immigration to meet the United States’ economic needs. It has to establish procedures to discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers. And it has to recognize that trade and cooperation with Mexico are key. Another vast wave of immigration from Mexico already is unlikely, given the rising prosperity and growing middle class there.
Republicans who want to accomplish something this summer, rather than just posturing, continue to look for what Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) called “that sweet spot that addresses the Democratic sensibilities and ours.” Such senators include Marco Rubio (Fla.), John McCain (Ariz.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and more. They should not let the process be derailed by the mischief of the naysayers.