I heard from a Senate source a few days ago about two very promising initiatives from conservative Senate Republicans committed to comprehensive immigration enforcement.
I repeat: Comprehensive immigration enforcement reform.
This is good policy. Smart politics. And it’s about damned time.
The first initiative involves one of my favorite GOP Senate members, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He is rolling out nearly a dozen different bills addressing specific border security and enforcement issues. The plan is to announce the campaign tomorrow.
Some details of the get-tough measures on the table:
Senate Republicans are set to announce Wednesday the hardest-hitting package of immigration enforcement measures seen yet — one that would require jail time for illegal immigrants caught crossing the border, make it harder for them to open bank accounts and compel them to communicate in English when dealing with federal agencies.
Most of the bills stand little chance of being debated in the Democrat-controlled Congress, but the move by some of the Senate’s leading Republicans underscores how potent the issue of immigration remains, particularly during a presidential election year.
The bills give Republicans a way to put pressure on the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to take a tougher stance on immigration. They also reflect a shift toward harsher immigration rhetoric and legislative proposals from both parties since Congress failed to pass a comprehensive overhaul in 2007.
The package, an enforcement smorgasbord assembled by at least eight lawmakers, consists of 11 bills, but could expand to include as many as 14. Some elements echo House bills, but others go beyond House proposals.
One would discourage states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants by docking 10 percent of highway funding from states that continue to do so. Another would extend the presence of National Guard on the border and a third would end language assistance at federal agencies and the voting booth for people with limited English ability.
A bill by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is leading the effort, would impose a maximum two-year jail sentence on someone caught crossing the border for a second time.
…Other bills in the package would:
• Block federal funding from cities that bar their police from asking about immigration status.
Give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use information from the Social Security Administration to target illegal immigrants.
• Require construction of 700 miles of fencing along the Southern border, not including vehicle barriers.
• Impose sanctions on countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens.
• Deport any immigrant, legal or illegal, for one drunken-driving conviction.
• Enable local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws
Ready for a snort? Here’s the Dems’ lame response:
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Republican proposal “falls far short of what is needed.” Democrats want to combine enforcement with a guest-worker program and a way to deal with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Reid “continues to support legislation that is tough on people who break the law, fair to taxpayers and practical to implement,” Manley said.
But Democrats also have begun embracing a tougher stance on immigration as well. A confidential study assembled for the Democratic leadership earlier this year urged them to start using tougher language. Democrats have focused on offering opportunity to immigrants, but the study by two think tanks urged them to begin speaking in terms of “requiring” illegal immigrants to become legal and about what’s best for the United States.
Many House Democrats have gone a step further, endorsing an enforcement-only bill by freshman Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina that would bolster border security and require employers to verify their workers’ legal status with an electronic verification system.
The SAVE Act has drawn 140 co-sponsors, 48 of whom are Democrats, many of them vulnerable freshman who won seats from Republicans.
The Democratic leadership dislikes Shuler’s bill and has refused to schedule a debate.
The other major initiative is led by GOP Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who is forming a Border Security & Enforcement First Immigration Caucus–sort of an analog of the House Immigration Caucus led by Tom Tancredo.
Conservatives in the Senate have played defense for too long. These measures will push the presidential candidates in both parties to go on record and will ensure that mass, uncontrolled immigration chaos remains on the Beltway radar screen. Stay tuned and be sure to keep tabs on where your Senators stand. I will, too.
And don’t forget to pressure them on the Fence to Nowhere and the $1.4 billion Mexican border security plan.
Update 11:33am Eastern. Meet the Senate Border Security Caucus…
Today, U.S. Sens. David Vitter (R- Louisiana), Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Elizabeth Dole (R-North Carolina), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) announced the formation of the Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus.
The U.S. illegal immigrant population is the highest it has ever been. One in 25 residents currently living in the United States is here illegally. Over the last seven years, immigration has been the highest in history – 10.9 million immigrants arrived, over half of them (five million plus) without legal status.
The Caucus members recognize that Congress has presented the American people with a false choice in solving the illegal immigration problem – give illegal aliens amnesty or round them up and deport them en masse. The principle mission of the Caucus is to promote a true, achievable alternative: attrition through enforcement and border security. Living illegally in the United States will become more difficult and less satisfying over time when the government – at ALL LEVELS – enforces all of the laws already on the books.
The Caucus will be a platform to let Americans know that some in the U.S. Senate are continuing to make sure that the laws already on the books will be enforced, act as the voice of those concerned citizens who have expressed their opinions time and time again for interior enforcement and border security, push for stronger border security and interior enforcement legislation, and work together in the U.S. Senate to defeat future legislation that offers amnesty.
Vitter: “Last year, the American people spoke loud and clear that amnesty is an unacceptable means of addressing the ever-growing illegal immigration problem in this country. Members of this caucus were listening, and we plan to make it our objective to push for interior enforcement measures that will address the illegal immigration problem without granting a free pass to millions of illegal aliens. As Chairman of the caucus I plan to look for any legislative vehicle available to pressure government on all levels to enforce the immigration laws currently on the books, as well as strengthen enforcement measures,” said Vitter.
DeMint: “It’s time for Congress to keep its promise to the American people to secure our borders and stop illegal immigration. Amnesty is unacceptable, but there are some commonsense solutions that will help us create a rational legal immigration system that works. I’m proud to join with my colleagues on the Border Caucus to fight for a secure border, enforcement of our immigration laws, and steps to encourage legal immigration.’
Sessions: “The American people have a fundamental understanding that our immigration system should be effective and lawful, and they recognize that past reform efforts have fallen short. The public’s frustration with Congressional inaction regarding illegal immigration is one reason we now see historically low approval ratings. I am convinced that our system can be fixed, and this caucus is an opportunity to keep the Senate focused on taking the steps necessary to secure our borders and restore law and order to America’s immigration system.”
Inhofe: “I am proud to join together with my fellow Republican Senators as part of the Border Security Caucus to work toward real and achievable immigration reform. Americans across the political spectrum weighed in on this issue during last summer’s immigration debate, sending a clear message that the American public demands immigration reform without a path to amnesty. What they want and deserve is for the federal government to take existing laws seriously and secure the borders.”
Dole: “The number one lesson learned from the Senate’s failed immigration bill is that Americans simply don’t have confidence that their government is serious about securing our borders and enforcing our laws. Real action and results on this front are long overdue, and I am proud to work with my colleagues who are committed to responsibly and effectively tackling the problems of our broken immigration system,” said Dole.
Chambliss: “Illegal immigration has taken a tremendous toll on our local communities, schools, hospitals, and our law enforcement community,” said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “We must secure the borders of this country, because that is where the problem of illegal immigration begins and where it must be stopped. This is one of the most critical challenges facing our nation, and the formation of this caucus will ensure that supporters of border security have a strong voice in the halls of Congress.”
Isakson: “There’s no greater domestic issue in this country than the problems on our southern border with Mexico, and it is time that Congress makes a commitment to make border security a reality. The members of this caucus understand that there is no way you can reform legal immigration unless you first secure the porous borders and stop the flow of illegal immigrants. It is time we stop making promises. It is time we start delivering solutions. America is too important, and this issue is too critical to the American people.”
Burr: “The United States must strengthen security at its borders so that those who are considering entering our nation illegally are deterred, and those who attempt to enter our nation illegally are caught. As a nation, we have welcomed generations of legal immigrants over the course of our history – immigrants who respect the law and contribute a great deal to our country and we should only permit those into our country who respect our laws, our system of government, and our way of life.”
Wicker: “Immigration reform needs to begin with strong enforcement of our laws and increased border security,” Senator Wicker said. “We are a nation built upon the rule of law. Mississippians understand that, and they expect this Congress to enforce those laws to the fullest. I look forward to working with my colleagues in this border security caucus to advance policies that will help achieve that goal.”