The effort to secure the borders and reform immigration law is about to enter a crucial month at the end of which the fate of the bill will almost certainly be known.
The bill as it emerged from the Gang of 8 can probably not pass the Senate and certainly wouldn’t pass the House, nor should it.
But the Gang of 8 draft was only, as Senator Marco Rubio has said repeatedly said, “a starting point.”
A policy and political disaster awaits if a bill emerges from the Senate that cannot generate enough momentum to get even an amended version through the House and into a conference committee. The House will not be able to salvage a badly disfigured bill coming out of the Senate, so key amendments must be made in the Senate or Republicans in the Senate should say no to the effort and do so quickly.
The three key areas for amendment are (1) the border fence; (2) E-Verify; and (3) provisions to study and implement biometric screening and recording of people entering or leaving the United States.
The first fix is the easiest. As Charles Krauthammer told me on my radio show Friday (transcript here), we need “a fence from left to right, from east to west, except obviously the mountainous areas.”
Almost everyone from the center-right knows the truth of what Krauthammer says, and given that he is probably the single most influential commentator on the center-right, it is pure stubbornness for the Senate GOP to refuse to listen to him and scores of others saying the same thing: Build the fence.
Don’t “study” where it should go. Mandate where it should be built, and how it should be built, and when it should be built if any temporary residence permits are to be issued.
If the Senate’s bill does not mandate the construction of a thousand miles or more of double-fencing with an access road –with specified construction design and schedule, with appropriated money and with “notwithstanding any other law” authority to override the various laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, NEPA etc.—it isn’t serious.
There is no “study” needed here, just resolve to secure the border. If the law mandates that the 1,000 miles of additional fence, built to specification, begins where the current double-sided fencing ends in California and continues east except for breaks where mountainous or ravine-ridden terrain intervenes, the bill will be specific enough with regards to length. Design can also be locked into legislative language. It will need citizen enforcement provisions and, crucially, a provision that ties the issuance of the temporary residence permits to the construction schedule. Thus citizens would be able to oblige the halt of the temporary permits if and when the fence building lagged.
Naysayers who assert this cannot be done need to look at a map of the interstate highway system. Far more difficult tasks than double-sided fencing with access roads have been accomplished again and again in this country. Through mountains and over ravines as well, though such coverage is not necessary here.
These fencing provisions alone would guarantee enormous support in the community from national security conservatives and amendments making E-Verify robust and immediately applicable to all hires would bring along many of the other current critics of the bill.
Senator Jeff Sessions noted on my radio show (transcript here) that biometric screening is the solution to watch lists that are not watched and a visa program that is deeply dangerous to the United States. This is where the technology gap may exist, or the cost of deployment and the impact on economic growth so staggering as to require phasing. Unlike the fence, which is low tech and actually relatively easy to engineer, biometric screening on a vast scale may or may