It’s still an open question whether the Senate immigration bill once hailed as a “grand bargain” returns to the Senate floor this week or fades forever from public and political consciousness. But before they try to resurrect this or any other immigration bill, President Bush and the senators who supported this failed effort would be well-advised to heed the opinion of the people who have elected them.
A New York Times/CBS poll taken May 18-23 found that 69% of Americans believe that illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported; 82% of those surveyed said the federal government should be working harder to “”keep illegal immigrants from crossing into this country.” And according to a Rasmussen poll, by a two-to-one margin (60% to 28%), Americans set a higher priority on gaining control of the nation’s borders than regularizing the status of illegal immigrants, while 75% opined that it’s very important for the United States to “improve border enforcement and end illegal immigration.”
At its heart, the bill was profoundly out of step with public opinion. In fact, it’s remarkable that any legislation with so many elements so at odds with prevailing opinion among Americans was ever given much of a chance at passing. Perhaps that’s why the bill’s proponents, who long believed that they had a winner on their hands, came in for a rude awakening by week’s end. But there were also plenty of other reasons for the legislation’s collapse.
The bill was flawed on its merits. For much of the past three weeks, Americans have had a tutorial on the substance of the immigration bill, and many came to dislike what they saw. From providing permanent temporary visas within the space of a business day to all comers before January 1 – including those from “countries of interest” well-known for their terrorist ties – to the “triggers” that could be largely certified without any meaningful improvement in border security, the bill’s opponents identified the significant dangers and disadvantages hidden in the bill.
Other controversial provisions included the elimination of the EB-1 visa, designed to facilitate the entry to the U.S. of those with exceptional gifts, skills or talents, and (especially for those on the left) the creation of a guest worker program unacceptable to labor unions. In fact, the more its provisions came to light, the more that even long-time self-described “liberals” on immigration like Bill Kristol came to oppose the legislation.