Digesting the Immigration Bill

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has wisely postponed any vote on the Kyl-Kennedy immigration bill until after the Memorial Day recess. This gives everyone time to examine the details of the legislation closely and to recommend changes, some of which may alter the thrust of the bill but others of which may simply make its provisions work more effectively.

Hugh Hewitt, who read the bill and blogged on it over the weekend, has some interesting recommendations. His proposal that immigrants from countries that have produced terrorists should be blocked from getting visas may be attacked as racist. But it's not racist at all to recognize that some countries have produced many more terrorists than others. It's just common sense. No foreigner has a right to enter the United States. And we have the right to defend ourselves.

Here's the roll call vote on cloture, which passed 69 to 23. There were eight absentees, six of whom are running for president. Failure to get 60 votes for cloture would have stopped the bill in its tracks, so we can take it that those who voted no are inclined to oppose it. Some 18 Republicans voted no, many fewer than the 30 Republicans who voted yes and many fewer than the 31 Republicans (as I recall) who voted against the more liberal bill the Senate passed last year. Five Democrats voted against cloture: Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana (which had the lowest immigrant inflow of any state from 2000 to 2006), Byron Dorgan of next-door North Dakota (who voted against the Senate bill last year), Robert Byrd of West Virginia (ditto), and Bernard Sanders of Vermont. I think we can take these five Democrats as supporting the view evidently taken by the AFL-CIO that allowing many low-skill immigrants in will tend to reduce the wages of low-skill Americans. There's some support for this in the research of scholar George Borjas, who, as I recall, concludes the immigrants lower low-skill Americans' wages by something on the order of 2 to 3 percent. I don't see that as a terrible problem, but you can see why some on the left would.

Scott Rasmussen has some very interesting polling numbers on immigration. There's a general assumption in the commentary, particularly on the part of advocates of a bill with legalization and guest-worker provisions, that supporters of an enforcement-only approach are motivated by a dislike of immigrants and a desire to keep them out. Rasmussen's numbers suggest the opposite:

Those who favor an enforcement-first policy are more likely than others to ultimately support a welcoming immigration policy.

It's important for those of us who favor what is called a comprehensive approach, or favor it if these details can be gotten right, to remember that our fellow citizens who take a different view are not yahoos or bigots. They're people who are skeptical--often volubly skeptical--about our government's failure to enforce existing laws effectively. They have some basis for that skepticism. Kyl-Kennedy employs a trigger approach: The legalization and guest-worker provisions click in only when certain benchmarks of effective enforcement are in place. It's important to get the details right, to make sure that the trigger applies only when enforcement is truly effective.