Montana News Article

Sen. Baucus needs to get on right side of immigration issue (Guest Opinion)

By Robert A. Grimaldi, Kalispell Daily Inter Lake

Immigration legislation is back in the news. During the week of Sept. 18, the House passed several bills --- HR4830, 6061, 6094, and 6095 --- that would improve enforcement of law against illegal aliens.

The House was apparently re-energized on the subject by the unusual series of hearings House committees held around the country during the summer months, including one in Hamilton on Aug. 28.

These hearings made clear that the "comprehensive immigration reform" bill S2611, passed by the Senate in May, does more than legalize legions of illegal aliens and triple legal immigration quotas. It's also loaded with provisions like "guest workers" who never have to go home and changes in asylum law that make a shouting match with one's spouse a ticket for permanent U.S. residence. The Senate bill is better described as 600 plus pages of comprehensive capitulation to Mexico with a bit of enforcement fluff thrown in as a smokescreen.

If people like Montana's senior senator, Max Baucus, have their way, the House's new enforcement only bills will never stand a chance in the Senate. Montana citizens who would like to see our country regain control of its borders and shrink legal immigration rates back to manageable levels may be interested to learn of Sen. Baucus's history with this subject.

Baucus was a senator in 1986 when Congress and President Reagan enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This law was supposed to permanently cure our problem of illegal immigration. It granted legal U.S. residency and a path to citizenship to illegal aliens who could show that they'd lived and worked in the U.S. continuously since January 1982 or before. Converting illegal aliens into legal residents was called "amnesty." The 1986 bill also introduced employer sanctions for the first time, making it illegal to knowingly hire illegal aliens. Illegal aliens ineligible for amnesty would also no longer be able to get jobs and it was expected they would then leave the country.

When the Immigration Reform and Control Act passed, it was estimated approximately 1 million illegal aliens would receive amnesty. The actual number was closer to 3 million and the books are still open. With enormous numbers of applicants swamping the federal immigration bureaucracy, the process was rife with fraud. Provisions against hiring illegal aliens were never enforced due to political pressure from large employers of illegal labor and honest employers' difficulty in verifying the legal status of those they wanted to hire. The main effect of the employer sanctions was to boost the counterfeit documents industry.

In the end, the 1986 amnesty encouraged a new wave of illegal immigrants, encouraged to believe that they would ultimately be granted amnesty as well. Indeed, there have been six smaller amnesties since the 1986 law was sold to the American people as "one time, never again," yet the population of "fresh" illegal aliens now in the country is at least 10 million.

Sen. Baucus and his staff know all this. Yet he voted for all the features of the Senate bill that are not in the best interest of America and certainly not supported by a large majority of Americans including most Montanans. Besides the mass amnesty and the enormous increase in legal immigrants, these features include, for example, crediting illegal aliens Social Security contributions they made while working illegally using stolen or fake Social Security numbers. (Meanwhile it remains a felony for an American citizen to use someone else's Social Security number.)

The reaction of Baucus and his staff when confronted with his voting record was both interesting and disingenuous. For example, they chose to debate the meaning of the word "amnesty." A friend provided me with a letter he received from a Baucus staffer. The letter states that an amendment to S2611 does NOT provide amnesty because illegal immigrants would have to pay back taxes, take English and citizenship classes, and go to the back of the line to become citizens.

This "argument" by Baucus and staff evades the central point: Whether or not one calls it amnesty, those affected do not have to leave the country. Instead, they obtain legal residence. Clearly, to a poorly educated alien who simply wants to hold down a low-skills job, send money home, and take advantage of America's extensive infrastructure and bountiful social services, becoming an actual U.S. citizen will not be a driving concern. The best analogy to describe the Baucus and staff position would be to both pardon a bank robber for his crime and give him the money he stole as a reward.

If Baucus is planning to run for re-election in 2008, he might want to consider that many Montanans are quite savvy on the immigration issue and are very aware of his appalling voting record. The "shucking and jiving" he uses to justify his votes is not going to be forgotten as the immigration issue continues to plague the security of America and the well-being of our social services infrastructure. Burns has his Abramoff albatross and Sen. Baucus may have a sordid immigration position to defend as his.

On the other hand, as a very senior Democrat who might retain some residual instinct to actually protect the interests of the American middle class, Baucus could step up as a leader on the effort to secure our borders and extrude illegal aliens from our society. But with his record as it stands, he can't retire soon enough for me --- or for the good of the country.

Grimaldi lives in Polebridge.

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