The Kennedy-Kyl bill is built on the assumption that the federal government can effectively channel the flow of immigration. It has country quotas and would admit fewer relatives and more high-skilled workers. It would set a limit on the number of guest workers and a time limit on their stay -- two years in, one year out. It allows for Z visas that would let current illegals remain if they pay certain fines (but not, astonishingly, back taxes), but provides that heads of household must return to their country of origin to be eligible for a green card and get on the path to citizenship.
Amnesty? The thing that is arousing so much fiery opposition to this bill -- embittered cries of "amnesty" -- is that we have tried something like this before and it didn't work. The immigration act of 1986, signed by Ronald Reagan, purported to strengthen the border and to sanction employers of illegal immigrants; in return it gave an amnesty to illegals already here. The amnesty worked, and the Clinton administration scurried to naturalize tens of thousands of immigrants in time for the 1996 election. But border security has not worked. And it turned out to be easy for illegals to buy forged identification papers and unfeasible to prosecute employers who accepted them in apparent good faith.
The advocates of this new bill must convince voters that their plan will work better. They have a decent case to make, such as their call for an identification card with biometric information. Technology has made this more feasible than it was 20 years ago, and the phobia against a national identification card has been weaker since 9/11. Advocates must now convince the critics that such a card would make sanctions against employers enforceable. They must also show that border security will improve: that the 700-mile fence mandated by Congress last fall will actually be built; that unmanned aerial vehicles will reduce illegal crossings; that the larger Border Patrol will be effective; and that the apparatus of state will prove strong enough to prevail against market forces.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that voters aren't dead set against legalizing current illegals. But they must be convinced first that this time, border security is for real.