[See also Juan Mann: Reclaiming America: What's In That H.R. 4437 Christmas Present? And Will The Senate Grinches Steal It?]
The shock of the House action which passed a true immigration reform bill last Friday, December 16th was heard all the way down to the lowliest P/R department person in corporate America and in every ethnic lobbyist's office. It truly was a major accomplishment.
Known as the Clear Act, introduced by U.S. Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA), it represented, according to his news release, a " big victory " after "a nearly three-year lobbying campaign to address America's criminal alien crisis."
His amendment to HR 4437 passed by a bipartisan 238-180 margin. The overall bill, HR 4437, is expected to be sent to conference with Senate immigration reform legislation, and if the two Houses agree to a final bill, the CLEAR Act (Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act) provisions could become law sometime next year. A similar bill has been already introduced in the Senate.
However, the anti reform spinning immediately began. The December 18th Washington Post piece, Analysts: Crackdown Won't Halt Immigration by Michael A. Fletcher and Darryl Fears, gathered supposedly unbiased opinion from the White House, whose chief resident is laying siege on the US Senate to make 11 million illegals already here into permanent residents. And several other NGOs including the Brookings, which has a well known bias against immigration reform and deep Democratic Party roots. Or the Migration Policy Institute whose articles are embraced by the Manhattan Institute, whose Tamar Jacoby writes regularly urging amnesty. This initial chorus of opinion basically opines that enforcement alone won't stop immigration and that it doesn't consider the effect of our demand for labor.
Oh, you mean paying $25,000 for each illegal on your payroll won't be noticed?
We know those arguments from way back. You know, "Pay less to Americans, so they won't work for starvation wages, then claim all those starving slaves from Mexico, who will work for half or less than U.S. workers, are needed and that there is therefore a labor shortage in America."
Let's look briefly at the many good things CLEAR does: It removes all legal doubt that local law enforcement agencies are approved to enforce federal immigration law during the course of routine duties. It also provides full federal funding for immigration law enforcement training, increases existing federal funding for local enforcement costs in dealing with criminal illegal immigrants (SCAAP), mandates that information on criminal aliens be placed in the National Criminal Information Center database (NCIC), and requires all states to comply with the Institutional Removal Program to automatically deport illegal aliens convicted of crimes following their jail terms.
The passage of the amendment also marked the first time that the House has approved a recorded vote to withhold federal funds from local governments that refuse to allow enforcement of federal immigration laws, creating "sanctuaries" where illegal immigrants, including criminal aliens, can avoid arrest for immigration violations. The CLEAR Act amendments allow an additional 700,000 state and local officers to join the fight.
Norwood noted, "There is no way 2,000 ICE agents can track down 400,000 CRIMINAL aliens of whom 85,000 are violent felons, and to which we're adding 40,000 new thugs every year."
Norwood says he will now push members of that body to either approve the Sessions bill or agree to the House Amendment in conference action.
The bill also would significantly strengthen enforcement by building sections of double walls along more than a third of the 2,000-mile southern border and incorporating more high-tech tools, including sensors, radar, satellites and unmanned drones, to enhance patrols.
Perhaps most important, Clear would discourage the hiring of illegal workers by intensifying enforcement against employers, who would have to confirm the authenticity of employees' Social Security numbers against a national database or face fines of as much as $25,000 per violation.
This latter provision is what really raises corporate hackles. To those who claim this bill won't work, I say, "Let's try it, 80% of Americans like it." Not only would employers be fined–maybe not heavily enough—but the bill would require that undocumented immigrants apprehended in the United States be held in detention facilities until they are deported.
The bottom line remains what the Senate passes next year and can come out of the conference. Its bill is widely expected to include enhanced enforcement measures and a huge White House pushed/business-lobbied-for guest worker program.
Rumor has it that when in House/Senate conference, amnesty will get larded on big time and many of the CLEAR features will be made fuzzy, a hallmark of bills such as McCain/Kennedy.
CLEAR has rough sailing ahead. But as a true representation of the vast majority of Americans' wishes, it is a great start.
If the Congressional elite and the White House go against the people's wishes again in the final legislation, the mid-term elections could be a time for massive retirements. Don't worry, Senators, immigration now has our attention and we will be watching closely. We're in the CLEAR, so let's stay there!
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.