Just last month, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting pledging to work together on reforming the nation’s immigration laws with one broad piece of legislation that would fix the broken immigration system once and for all. The meeting’s attendees seemed to agree that a “piecemeal” approach would be counterproductive and inefficient.
However, that didn’t stop a group of right-wing GOP lawmakers from continuing on what seems like a never-ending crusade to derail comprehensive immigration reform. Their latest attack came this week when Republican senators swamped the Department of Homeland Security $42.9 billion appropriations bill with a series of immigration enforcement-only amendments before comprehensive immigration reform could even hit the Senate floor. The bill passed yesterday evening, 84-6.
— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) sponsored an amendment that would require 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to be completed by the end of 2012. Concerns expressed by environmentalists and social activists that the border fence will unfairly target low-income landowners and harm the environment were brushed aside. The legislation passed Wednesday by a vote of 54-44, essentially bucking the Obama administration’s plans to cut border fence funds.
— Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) offered a separate amendment that would overturn DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s decision to rescind the Bush Administration’s troubling practice of sending Social Security “no-match” letters to employers with employees whose numbers don’t match the federal database. Labor unions claim the letters have been used by employers to threaten their workers and the ACLU has often pointed out that the system uses “notoriously incomplete and inaccurate Social Security databases to decide who is authorized to work.” The legislation passed yesterday morning.
— Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) proposed an amendment that would make E-verify, an error-ridden online verification program, mandatory and permanent. The amendment passed by voice vote on Wednesday, and Sen Check Schumer’s (D-NY) effort to table it was dismissed yesterday, 44-53.
— Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also introduced an amendment that would allow employers to use E-verify to confirm the status of all their workers, not just the new hires that previous decisions had applied to. That wouldn’t be such a big problem if it weren’t for the possibility that E-verify’s error-rate could potentially lead to the accidental unemployment of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the midst of a recession. The amendment passed by voice vote last night.
While anti-immigrant groups are already toasting to the imminent failure of comprehensive immigration reform, immigration advocates remained calm and described this week’s actions as a “detour” and “political theater” that should be “taken with a grain of salt.” Either way, there’s an undeniable steep learning curve for conservative lawmakers who are slow to realize that they can no longer rely on an enforcement-only approach to immigration when the majority of their frustrated constituents want immigration laws overhauled inside and out. E-verify, no-match letters, and 700 miles of border fencing aren’t going to fix the immigration system. If anything, they further emphasize how broken it is.