If U.S. senators cannot level with voters about the immigration legislation they are considering, then the measure deserves to fail.
Not that I expect it to fail. Very powerful forces want the measure, authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to become law.
American employers want cheap labor. Poor people across the globe want American jobs. The notion that anyone should have to respect another country's immigration laws has become anachronistic. Both Democratic and Republican party leaders look at the children of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America -- and they want their future votes.
Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, observed that with the Chamber of Commerce and big labor pushing for a comprehensive immigration package, a Senate bill "should pass."
But Camarota also noted that despite the big guns' support, some senators seem to be backing away. If senators hear their constituents rag on the bill over Memorial Day weekend, the Kennedy-Kyl compromise could be a goner.
If the measure does fail, one factor will be that proponents did not have enough faith in their message to tell the truth about what their bill would do.
They won't use the word "amnesty." President Bush, who supports the bill, won't use the a-word either. Yet "amnesty" aptly describes provisions that would grant illegal immigrants the legal right to live and work in America.
Senators who support the measure tell voters that they want to pass the bill because, as one senator put it, "We need to secure the border." Ha. Supporters also say they want to squeeze those who hire illegal workers.
Do they think voters are stupid?
Washington does not have to pass new laws to beef up border enforcement or punish law-breaking employers. Those laws exist. To the extent that such laws have not been enforced, the cause is not that laws are not tough enough, but that Washington has lacked the will to enforce them. Consider directives that prohibit some Border Patrol pursuits of fleeing drug smugglers.
Besides, if Washington wants to reward those who have broken immigration law, why pass a new law? If Washington wants to eliminate penalties for illegal immigrants, why not save the taxpayers a few bucks and dump the whole immigration and border control bureaucracy?
On Tuesday, Kennedy's office issued a prepared statement in which the senator boasted that his bill would "say 'no more worker abuse.'" Employers would have to verify that they only hire legal workers. If they don't, they could be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, and if they re-offend, "they can even go to jail."
Two paragraphs later, Kennedy praised undocumented workers because "they work hard every day" -- in jobs for which Kennedy just said he would subject their employers to jail time.
Then Kennedy complained about an immigration raid at a New Bedford, Mass., company that "disrupted the lives of scores of families who had laid down roots in the New Bedford community." Despite his pro-enforcement claim, clearly Kennedy doesn't want real constraints on illegal immigrants.
What a bonanza for cheapskate companies who don't want to pay competitive wages.
Immigration warrants compromise in Washington. A savvy pact could bring some immigrant families into the America fold and seek a balance in the workforce that protects low-skilled workers and employers. For example, the Senate could vote to allow children who were brought into America illegally before 2007 to become citizens when they reach age 18. After all, it is not a child's fault if he or she is an illegal immigrant.
But this bill is not a compromise. Only one side -- the anti-illegal immigration side -- makes a considerable concession, while the pro-illegal lobby wins amnesty for illegal immigrants. And still pro-illegal groups complain that illegal immigrants might have to jump through some hoops, such as returning to their home country to apply for entry.
The only concession the pro-illegal immigration crowd makes is to honesty. Proponents say they don't want amnesty -- and then squawk at any conditions undocumented adults must meet to win citizenship. They say they want to go after employers -- and then protest enforcement actions against those who hire illegal immigrants. And they say they want to secure the border, as they give a green light to people who break border-crossing laws.