May 25, 2006

Legislative Negligence: The Senate Immigration Bill

With a few honorable exceptions, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the U.S. Senate's performance over the last week and a half was a textbook example of legislative negligence. Today, Thursday, the Senate is expected to vote for a 614 page bill that is estimated to increase legal immigration over the next two decades from 19 million to 66 million, and yet few Senators appear to have taken time to study the bill and crunch the numbers.

The one Senator who clearly has given this monumentally complicated and important bill the attention it deserves, Sen. Sessions, was smeared by Washington Post star reporter Dana Milbank yesterday precisely for behaving responsibly. (You really need to read Milbank's article to believe it.)

A Christian Science Monitor reporter has outlined how little the Senators who support the Hagel-Martinez bill know about the potential effects of their law:

Surprises on Senate's path to immigration bill
By Gail Russell Chaddock

WASHINGTON – After months of emotional gridlock, US senators are pushing the pedal to the metal on the first overhaul of immigration policy in two decades.

The trouble is, no one is quite sure what's in it. The quickened pace in recent days has helped the Senate get to "yes" on the 614-page bill - a final vote is expected this week. And it's given senators a rare chance to actually legislate. But it's also produced several surprises that have caught members off guard.

… Keeping abreast of the bill's changes often overwhelmed members. The final hours of the Judiciary Committee's March 27 markup got so rushed that, at one point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California asked: "Excuse me, but did we just vote to raise or lower the number of H-1B visas?" No one knew.

In the end, the Senate raised the number of visas for high-tech workers from 65,000 to 115,000 a year. But with an automatic 20 percent escalator clause in the bill that could mean an additional 3 million foreigners will compete with American workers for high-tech jobs in the US during the next 10 years.

"To do a bill like this on a forced march, it wasn't ready to come out," said Senator Feinstein, after joining 72 other senators to vote to end debate on the bill Wednesday. "I am very pro-high tech, but these are prize jobs in our economy. They really should be evaluated every year."

It's one of the many possibly unintended consequences in a bill that could have a vast impact on America's economy and society.

… In a key vote last week, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota and Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama - typically bookends on any vote on social policy - found themselves on the same losing side of a 69-28 vote to limit eligibility for the bill's guest-worker program to protect American jobs. "What on earth are we thinking? Can't there be some modicum of discussion about the effect on American workers?" said Senator Dorgan, introducing his amendment last week.

In support of that amendment, Senator Sessions introduced a new report by the Heritage Foundation that claimed that the Senate bill would allow 100 million new legal immigrants into the country over the next 20 years. He called for a demographic impact statement on the impact of the bill.

"There's been no discussion of the fiscal costs of amnesty or the plight of American workers in the Senate debate," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports limits on immigration.

Asked whether the Senate was "flying blind" on the demographic impact of this bill, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas said: "We're not entirely blind."

Is the American Establishment too immature to legislate on immigration?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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