Those who want to fix the immigration system have worked on it for 12 years. The 501(c)3 organizations that make up what is known as the "Immigration Reform Industrial Complex" spent millions bashing Republicans. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in U.S. cities. Advocates wrote letters, signed petitions, called members of Congress, dialed into talk radio shows, and appeared on cable television. Eight senators from both parties forged a compromise. The Senate spent three months making sausage.
And in the end, all we got was this lousy bill.
Thanks to the "border surge" amendment sponsored by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven, what we got was a bill that will do some good for about half of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. According to policy analysts, only about 6 million are likely to qualify for legal status, be able to afford the fees, clear background checks or stick around long enough to reap a benefit.
All this comes at a high price. The bill will do a lot of harm to U.S.-Mexico relations by treating a neighbor as an aggressor, and probably endanger the lives of people along the U.S.-Mexico border, both U.S. residents and immigrants who might try to enter the United States illegally in the years to come. The danger comes from the fact that there will be a lot more Border Patrol agents policing the southern border, which could increase the chances that altercations will turn violent.
As amended, the Senate bill specializes in division. It splits Republicans between those who want to make amends with Hispanics and those who think Hispanics are a lost cause for the GOP.
But the bill also splits the immigration reform coalition. It divides Mexican immigrants with a stake in the outcome from self-righteous Mexican-Americans who are comfortable taking risks with legislation that doesn't impact them as much as it does other people. It divides DREAMers, who are a lock to get legal status, from their parents, most of whom won't get a thing. It divides those who want good policy from those who will accept crumbs and call it a feast. It divides Mexican immigrants who are already in the United States and don't have to worry about the human collateral that comes from militarizing the border from those who are still stuck in Mexico and whose route into the United States is about to get much more dangerous.
Finally, there is the big split — between those immigration reformers who want to go all in on this bill and those who want to throw in their cards, walk away from the table and look for another game down the road.
Count me as one of those who is close to walking away.
This is what happens when lawmakers go out of their comfort zones. Corker hails from Tennessee and Hoeven is from North Dakota. Neither one lives anywhere near the U.S.-Mexico border.
And their knowledge of the region is an enchilada short of a combination plate. If you don't understand the border, you can't secure it. All you can do is make a bad situation worse.
Corker and Hoeven propose completing 700 miles of border fence, a minor hindrance that a desperate and determined soul will not hesitate to go under, over or around to feed his family. Their amendment also gives the Border Patrol exactly what the agency has said it doesn't want: more personnel to train and manage.