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May 9, 2007

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Our Congress is embarking on yet another curious and quixotic adventure, almost like the movie "Ground Hog Day." This time it is again delving into a perilous journey to develop a cogent approach to immigration reform.

Yes, it was just about a year ago that we were all debating and then wrestling to the ground S.2611, the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006," and the House version of immigration reform, "The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005"

For years Congress has grappled with the first major overhaul of our country's immigration laws since a 97-3 majority passed Senate Bill 1664 in 1996.

That 1996 legislation was huge on several fronts. Scores of measures were enacted to limit the opportunity for illegal immigration. The border patrol was increased in both funding and staffing. Provisions barred an apprehended illegal alien for re-entry into the country for 10 years.

The most noteworthy legacy of the 1996 legislation was that it was a huge failure.

With the exception of that 1996 legislation, all immigration reform since 1990 has been ad hoc and piecemeal, all with the same results - failure to regulate and manage demands on immigration labor and maintaining a secure border with Mexico.

Alright - all immigration approaches by Congress have failed since the ill-fated 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress.

According to the Library of Congress, the Chinese Exclusion Act "was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history, and it excluded Chinese laborers from the country under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. It also made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship.. Later, the 1924 Immigration Act would tighten the noose even further. Until these restrictions were relaxed in the middle of the twentieth century, Chinese immigrants were forced to live a life apart, and to build a society in which they could survive on their own."

This sounds all too familiar. Even last May the Senate passed S.2611 by a vote of 62 to 36. The legislation was introduced on April 4, 2006, and the rampant rancor and rhetoric has been unabated ever since - with no perceivable progress.

If anything, the merits of the discussions and debate have deteriorated, even enveloping the earliest presidential campaign in history.

Now, why, you may ask, do we want to be reminded of failed legislation from a year ago? Fair question. Guess what - it's coming back, only worse.

Yes, breakout the Pepto-Bismol as support erodes for even last year's legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., NV) last week gave the president until May 14 to facilitate a bi-partisan agreement on an even more liberal approach to immigration. Yeah, right.

If the deadline is not met - and conventional wisdom believes that it is impossible - Senator Reid will bring back last year's legislation that was passed out of the Judiciary Committee. He will use a "parliamentary maneuver that will allow him to bypass the normal committee process and bring a bill of his choosing to the floor," according to The Washington Times.

This, in spite of the fact that the bill that emerged from that committee ultimately failed "in favor of a more conservative bill, S.2611, which many predict would not even pass this year if it were to come to a vote.

Faced with the possibility of an even more liberal approach to immigration reform, for some last year's legislation is looking better than nothing as it (as I wrote last May) "embraced a bi-partisan multi-disciplinary approach to the challenges of immigration reform embraced by President George W. Bush."

If you will recall, last year's legislation connected "securing of the border with Mexico with a 'guest-worker' program, which will facilitate immigrant labor to work in our country and create a procedure for current undocumented workers to pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, and apply for citizenship."

The president is faced with "trying to work on a new alternative that would cut down on who is eligible for citizenship rights, and require immigration enforcement before the new worker program and path to citizenship would take effect," according to The Washington Times.

Nevertheless, it appears that this year the divisions in both the Democrat and Republican parties have deepened to the point that any discussion resembles a circular firing squad.

The Washington Times quoted "a senior Republican aide," who nailed it: the Democrats "want the issue, not an accomplishment." The immigration issue divides the Democrats as much as the Republicans. The aide went on to add "that Mr. Reid's move appears designed to force Republicans to filibuster the bill, thus allowing both sides to point fingers at each other.

"He wants us to save Democrats from themselves - 'Stop me before I take bad votes again.' That's where (Senator Reid) is. He wants us to be (the) grown-ups."

But, overlooked in the great immigration debate is the critical need for immigration reforms that will secure a legal and stable workforce - especially in agriculture and other seasonal sectors of the economy.

"Many businesses are facing hard times because of cutbacks in temporary visas that allow seasonal workers like waitresses and yard laborers to enter the country," according to a CBS report.

This Congress is looking to be about as big a "do-nothing" joke as the last Congress - except for its efforts to investigate, investigate and investigate.

Meanwhile, speaking of investigation, if this continues and you want to eat later this year, investigate growing a vegetable garden. I wish I were joking.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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