Senate Strays From Americans With Amnesty Approach

Posted May 11, 2007 at 2:26pm

The Senate Democratic leadership has announced plans to bring to the Senate floor this month “comprehensive” immigration reform legislation. News reports indicate that the bill will likely legalize almost all of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants now in the United States. This would be a grave mistake.

On May 8, we sent an open letter to the Senate urging it to reject any such bill. It can mean only one thing — mass amnesty on an unprecedented scale.

Amnesty occurs when an illegal immigrant is not deported as required by law but is legalized and allowed to stay. Amnesty rewards lawbreakers with the objective of their crime, and it grants them benefits we withhold from those who have played by the rules and are waiting their turn. It treats illegal immigrants better than those who obeyed the law. That can only undermine respect for the rule of law.

Unbiased polls repeatedly demonstrate that Americans oppose amnesty, and a strong bipartisan group of House Members understand that the public will be wronged if the Senate rushes through an amnesty proposal without adequate time for public comment.

This complex, controversial and emotional topic deserves reflection, not rashness.

Several Senators have publicly expressed the view that passing any immigration legislation this year, even bad legislation, is better than not passing an immigration bill at all. We could not disagree more. Congress has a responsibility to pass the best policy. Members took an oath to uphold the rule of law, yet some now seem to want to reward lawbreakers.

We would not seriously consider that kind of policy for any other crime. World opinion does not expect any other country to offer amnesty to those who have illegally crossed its borders. Mexico certainly does not, and it does not offer to do anything to help with the problem that it largely has created through its stifling economic policies. It is particularly ironic that despite all of this and despite our having the most generous legal immigration system in the world, some now think we are obligated to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants who have shown their disrespect for our laws.

The simple fact is amnesty is not good for the vast majority of U.S. citizens. Nor does enforcing our laws embody animosity as some claim. When amnesty legalizes millions of illegal immigrants, it devastates vulnerable American workers by importing cheap labor when wages are already flat, burdens American taxpayers and encourages waves of new illegal immigration in the future. These stark, fundamental truths stand despite the feel-good rhetoric of amnesty proponents. We need only look to the results of the 1986 amnesty for confirmation.

The American people will watch expectantly to see whether their Members will remain resolute or repeat the grave error Congress made two decades ago. If the Senate passes mass amnesty legislation, the American people will call it for what it is. We will have no choice but to do the same.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee.