Immigration: Dream First, and Compromise Later

The bipartisan immigration package put forward by the Gang of Eight looks like a reasonable bill, but it likely won’t become law, and it probably shouldn’t.

The 844-page bill would provide a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who have no serious criminal record, pay $2,000 in fines and are paid up on their taxes. Though the law would confer registered provisional immigrant status to qualified immigrants immediately, it would make them wait 10 years to apply for a green card, and then they could go for citizenship. That 13-year process, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has asserted, would mean that illegal immigrants would not become citizens before legal immigrants who played by all the rules.

“This is not amnesty,” Rubio told “Fox News Sunday.” “Amnesty is the forgiveness of something. Amnesty is anything that says, ‘Do it illegally; it’ll be cheaper and easier.'”

Why is it likely to fail? On the left, critics complain that the package presents too many hoops. The New York Times editorialized against the measure’s exclusion of felons and those convicted of three or more misdemeanors and other disqualifiers. “It should not take superhuman strength and rectitude, plus luck and lots of money, for an immigrant to march the 10 years to a green card,” the Gray Lady opined.

There will be a lot of pressure on Democrats to water down the package.

On the right, the compromise must overcome skepticism and hostility. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, quickly panned the bill. “Despite assurances, the border is not secured before almost everyone in the country illegally is given amnesty. The bill guarantees there will be a rush across the border to take advantage of massive amnesty,” he said in a statement.

The number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border this year is up 13 percent, according to U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher. The catalyst could be an improved economy, or it could be a magnet effect of the chance to be legal. (The bill would apply only to those who have resided in the United States since before Dec. 31, 2011, but how many Americans know that?)

Opponent Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told me that even he is open to legalizing illegal immigrants with jobs and clean records, but “these guys need to earn the right to ask for an amnesty. I don’t mean the illegal aliens; I mean the politicians.”

It’s hard to trust that Washington would enforce a new law, after President Barack Obama has shown a willingness to ignore existing law. He condones sanctuary cities that won’t cooperate with immigration officials. Last year, he decided that 800,000 illegal immigrants who came here before they were 16 could enjoy legal status. The constitutionality of that move was dubious, and the president knew it, but it was an election year.

Instead, Obama should have pushed Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. It’s an issue of simple fairness. Children are not responsible for their parents’ decision to flout immigration law. They shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions.

Standing alone, the DREAM Act probably could survive a floor vote in both the Democratic Senate and the GOP House. Let Washington start with a measure that doesn’t require voters to trust Washington.

Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].

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