Monday, June 4, 2007

In a set of divisive speeches last week concerning immigration reform, President Bush succeeded in angering people across the political spectrum by denouncing opponents to the immigration legislation he crafted behind closed doors with Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The Bush-Kennedy bill, unveiled to Senators just 48 hours before floor debate began, would grant amnesty to the 12 to 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and in addition create two new guest worker programs that would annually import hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers. The Bush-Kennedy legislation has outraged many constituents, who have flooded the phone lines on Capitol Hill to voice their opposition.
President Bush, attempting to push back on constituent anger, gave two speeches last week that only served to fuel the fire in this debate. His first speech was at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia where he ridiculed those who claim that the legislation will grant amnesty illegal aliens: "This bill is not an amnesty bill. If you want to scare the American people, what you say is, the bill is an amnesty bill. It's not an amnesty bill." Bush further brushed aside these critics, saying, "Those determined to find fault with this bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like. If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it. You can use it to frighten people" (emphasis added). To read President Bush's speech in full, click here.
The President's words prompted swift reaction from many corners, including from fellow Republicans. Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, released a statement saying, "Amnesty for 12-20 million illegal immigrants isn't a "narrow slice" Mr. President, it's the whole darn pie. What part of illegal does the President not understand? The American people want us to secure the border and crackdown on the number one incentive for illegal immigration which is illegal employment - they don't want another amnesty." Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee responded by saying, "It doesn't matter how you slice it, the Senate amnesty bill is a raw deal for American workers and the rule of law. The bill treats illegal immigrants better than those who play by the rules, wait their turn and come in the right way. Either according to a law dictionary or common sense, the Senate bill is amnesty."
Despite this negative reaction, President Bush delivered another, similar speech during an immigration briefing he attended in the Executive Office Building. There, Bush again insisted that the Bush-Kennedy legislation is not amnesty and added, "For those who call it amnesty, they're just trying to, in my judgment, frighten people about the bill." Moreover, Bush suggested that that those who oppose the bill "fear diversity" and once again questioned the patriotism of his Congressional opponents by saying "people ought to be running for office to do what's right for the United States of America." To see the President's comments in full, click here.

Group of Senate Democrats Vote to Uphold Rule of Law
In the weeks following it's release, the Bush-Kennedy Bill has received blistering criticism from both sides of the aisle because it grants amnesty to the 12 to 20 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. During debate on the Senate floor last week, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced an amendment to completely strike the amnesty portion (Title VI) from the bill, which failed 29-66. Many Republican activists were outraged that Republican Senators who had promised to fight amnesty actually voted to keep it in the bill. However, the silver lining behind the vote was the number of Democratic Senators who broke party ranks and voted with Senator Vitter to strike the amnesty portion of the bill.
In fact, nine Democratic Senators were courageous enough to cast their vote in opposition to amnesty. They were Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Rockefeller (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT). Commenting on his vote, Senator Nelson said, "We must secure the borders so that we don't have millions more illegal immigrants. If we do not, we will only encourage millions more to cross the border illegally in hopes of being part of the amnesty offered under this legislation." A statement released from Senator Byrd's office said, "We should not reward those who break our immigration laws… this proposal could wave a magic wand and give as many as 12 million illegal immigrants automatic legal status. This amnesty plan is no fairy tale; it is a bad dream." While Senator Landrieu did not issue a formal statement regarding the vote, her spokesman Adam Sharp stated that Landrieu does not support "a path to blanket amnesty."
Senator Dorgan not only voted to strip the amnesty from the bill, but also introduced two critical amendments (#1153 and #1181) to eliminate the guest worker program from Title IV of the Bush-Kennedy bill. Unfortunately, the amendment to delete the guest worker program failed, 31-64; the amendment to sunset the program after five years failed, 48-49. To see how your Senators voted on Dorgan Amendment #1153, click here; to see how your Senators voted on Dorgan Amendment #1181, click here.

Congressman Ellsworth Denounces Amnesty
Freshman Congressman Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) is joining an increasing number of Democrats in the House of Representatives taking a firm stance against the amnesty provisions in the Bush-Kennedy bill. Last week, Congressman Ellsworth penned an article published in the Evansville Courier & Press denouncing amnesty. He wrote: "As a former law enforcement officer, rewarding people with amnesty for breaking our laws just doesn't sit right with me…For the past five years, Congress and the president have shortchanged border security and looked the other way while our laws were broken." Ellsworth also indicated that rather than granting new protections for illegal aliens, immigration reform must first include border security, reliable employment verification, and enforcing laws that are already on the books.
To tackle one such issue, Congressman Ellsworth has introduced the 'Legal Employee Verification Act' (H.R. 1951) in an effort to safeguard well-meaning employers by ensuring their work forces are legal, while also increasing punishments and fines for employers that exploit an illegal workforce. "An abundance of jobs for illegal immigrants is one of the main causes of the immigration problem we face," said Ellsworth. "Without available jobs, illegal immigrants have little incentive to leave their native countries." He is joined on the legislation by fellow Freshman Heath Shuler (D-NC), member of the Immigration Reform Caucus.

Congressman Clyburn Sends Mixed Messages on Amnesty
House Majority Whip Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) recently indicated that he is uncomfortable with the amnesty proposals currently before Congress. The Associated Press reports that while discussing the issue of immigration reform during a press conference last week Clyburn stated, "I don't think there's a quick fix to this. I don't think there's any simple way to deal with this. And I will not support amnesty for anybody, I mean, that would be rewarding bad behavior."
Despite these comments, Clyburn simultaneously expressed disapproval at the notion of sending illegal aliens back to their home countries. "I would love to see us do something with a friendly country that would set up an Ellis Island sort of process outside of the country for people to acknowledge they're in here illegally to then start the process of coming back in," Clyburn said. This statement appears to be a reference to the proposal offered last year by Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) that would have legalized the 12 to 20 million illegal aliens by simply processing them on the other side of the border. Clyburn said the House will work off the legislation drafted by Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), also known as H.R.1645.

Senators Durbin, Grassley Propose Amendment to Prioritize American Workers
Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took an important step to protect American workers by introducing Amendment #1231 to the Kennedy/Bush amnesty bill. The amendment, by striking certain language in the "Y" guest worker program, eliminates a loophole that would allow employers of foreign guest workers to ignore protections for American workers.
In its current form, the Bush-Kennedy bill purports to protect American workers by imposing certain requirements on employers who wish to hire the new Y guest workers. These include advertising the job opening through various means at least 90 days before it will be filled and offering the job first (with same wages, benefits, and conditions) to any eligible U.S. worker who applies. It also requires that an employer certify to the Department of Labor that there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified to fill the jobs and that good faith efforts at recruitment have taken place. However, the Bush-Kennedy bill allows employers to these requirements if the Department of Labor (DOL) simply certifies there is a shortage of workers in the occupation and area of intended employment.
Allowing employers to short-circuit the intended process through DOL shortage certifications represents a significant loophole in the Bush-Kennedy bill. It is essentially an invitation for big business to lobby the federal government for such a certification and then, when certification is received, ignore U.S. worker protections. The Durbin-Grassley amendment eliminates this loophole by deleting the exception for Department of Labor shortage certifications, and thereby ensures that all employers who use the Y visa program are looking at U.S. citizens first before looking abroad.
The Durbin-Grassley amendment is only one of many pending amendments that is expected to be debated and voted on before final passage later this week