Late last year, Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-SC) sparked a series of sweeping changes in the way immigrants are treated by proposed health care reform. Despite the fact that President Obama wasn’t really lying about the fact that health care reform benefits would not apply to undocumented immigrants, Democrats in the Senate responded by adding tightened verification requirements and banning undocumented immigrants from even purchasing full-price insurance with their own money on the exchange. Nonetheless, Wilson appeared on Fox & Friends this morning proclaiming that, as a former immigration attorney, he’s still not satisfied:
KILMEADE: We know that illegal immigration has slowed down because the economy has slowed down. If we give word out that we are going to be giving health care coverage, families — you wouldn’t be able to keep up with all this. But the argument is we ask for Social Security numbers, we’re going to ask for citizen verification. So Joe Wilson’s wrong.
WILSON: Well actually, by asking for the Social Security Number, it could be a fake number. Because there’s not verification in the bill. There are over 20 pages referencing citizen verification, but it has no teeth, it has no meaning. But additionally it has no enforcement. So it truly would cause people to come to our country. [...]
CARLSON: Is it true that you are or were an immigration attorney?
WILSON: Yes, I have done immigration work many years ago. We’ve got good laws in our country and they’re just so positive and we need to follow the laws we have.
CARLSON: I find that fascinating Congressman because that point was not brought up in that whole debate about what you yelled out that day is the fact that you have actually worked on some of those cases.
To begin with, undocumented immigrants can’t just provide fake SSN and expect government benefits to fall in their laps. Both the Senate and House health care bills require any citizens applying for benefits to be verified against Social Security Administration data and non-citizens to be verified using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. Rather than being a loophole that will allow undocumented immigrants to slip through the cracks, the tightened verification mechanisms will more likely block or delay coverage for a number of eligible citizens as they did in the case of Medicaid.
Secondly, justifying Wilson’s erroneous claims on the basis that he is an immigration attorney is disingenuous at best. Back in September, Zachary Roth of Talking Points Memo discovered that Wilson “has never been anything but a real-estate attorney.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association found no record of his name in its membership databases and Wilson’s old colleagues seemed baffled by the characterization. On Fox & Friends Wilson ambiguously explained that he helped some “dear friends” of his from Canada and India prepare for their immigration interviews thirty years ago. As Roth points out, “calling oneself an immigration attorney implies a body of technical knowledge and experience that Wilson, it appears, doesn’t possess.” If Wilson did in fact have any sort of serious experience with immigration law since it changed 24 years ago, he probably wouldn’t be saying that immigration laws are “just so positive.”