Alert: The Wilberforce Trap

Mickey Kaus Columnist
Font Size:

Just when anti-amnesty forces thought they’d won …  It looks as if “comprehensive immigration reform” is dead for 2014. Everybody’s saying it! Republican voters in Virginia and Alabama have spoken forcefully on the subject. Eric Cantor is now a promising young lobbyist. Meanwhile the chaos on the Texas-Mexico border demonstrates vividly that if you promise an amnesty, lots of people living abroad in unpleasant circumstances will heed the signal and come here whether or not they technically qualify under all the fine print of a law.

But what if backers of “comprehensive immigration reform” have come up with a way to snatch a victory from their apparent defeat? That’s the alarm sounded by Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA.  Remember that a key goal of House amnesty opponents has been to avoid a “conference committee” with the Senate in which the latter could insist on some kind of legalization bill (maybe not as broad as the infamous “Gang of 8” legislation, but broad enough) that would then go to a vote in the House and maybe pass with mainly Democratic votes. Even the minor House “Denham Amendment” (to allow undocumented immigrants who serve in the military to be legalized) was successfully opposed as a Trojan Horse for triggering a free-ranging conference negotiation.

Well, now there’s another bit of immigration legislation the House might send to the Senate: A law tinkering with the language of the Wilberforce Act, which the Obama administration claims requires it to offer cumbersome hearings to those now crossing the border from Central America (leading to their de facto admission into the U.S. while they wait for the hearing that many will skip out on anyway).

Could the Wilberforce Fix be another way to trigger a Senate-House conference — a conference where amnesty-supporter Harry Reid and amnesty supporter John Boehner would predictably stack with … amnesty supporters? There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious. Boehner’s so-called working group to deal with the Southern crisis is packed with Republicans (Diaz-Balart, Carter, Goodlatte ) who have been ready to cut a grand legalization bargain in the past. And Boehner’s moving very quickly — it’s almost as if he wants to get a bill to the Senate before amnesty opponents wake up and realize what’s happening. Democrats in the Senate (like Tom Harkin) seem to oppose any Wilberforce fix — but who knows what they’ll do if Boehner sends them a bill and throws them in the immigration briar patch?

The genius of this plan would be that conservatives are so exercised by the massive border breach that they would demand the action (amending Wilberforce) that would lead to their ultimate defeat.  Their justified outrage works against them, jiu-jitsu style. The more they worry about Obama importing new voters the more they want to close the Wilberforce hole. It’s hard for politicians and voters to pull up short, in the middle of demanding a righteous statutory change, and say … ‘Wait a minute. Slow down. Maybe it’s not worth changing the law right now, even for the better.’

There are those (including Senator Feinstein and experts at the Center for Immigration Studies)  who argue Wilberforce doesn’t need to be amended at all — it contains some “exceptional circumstance” flexibility, and applies only to unaccompanied minors who are victims of trafficking and have no parents or guardians in the U.S. , when most of those crossing the border are brought willingly by smugglers, not unwillingly by traffickers, and have relatives who are here). I’m not completely convinced. But it’s clear President Obama has at least some discretion under the law that he’s not exercising. In any case, no possible beneficial change in Wilberforce is worth risking a conference committee in which an amnesty of some sort is on the table. The current crisis on the border may let tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants into the country. We can handle that. An amnesty law would potentially attract tens of millions and lock us into a cycle of serial amnesties for decades.

Republicans and Democrats who are skeptical of the fraudulent promises of “comprehensive” reform need to take a deep breath and urge Boehner, et. al., to slow down with the statutory changes, and explain why they won’t lead to a free-ranging conference with the Senate. …

Update — It Gets Worse: Breitbart‘s Jonathan Strong reports that the Boehner’s working group “has delayed a report of its recommendations while officials consider a broader response.”  Yikes.

More than anything,” [the group’s leader Rep. Kay] Granger said, the negotiations are over “how broad or narrow the bill will be, how much we stick to just a few things or do we go into some wish lists of other members.”

I’m sure Rep. Diaz-Balart has a wish list. … Granger still says she wants to pass a bill before the August recess. …

Mickey Kaus