Streetcar Line

Pence Again

His "no amnesty" bill is all that can prevent Republican voters from staying home on November 7.

By 6.7.06

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The U.S. Senate may have temporarily moved on to other matters after passing a truly hideous immigration bill, but the mess it has made will not go away any time soon. It's a mess the House of Representatives can't just ignore, because the need for added border security is so great. (Example: See Judd Slivka's action-packed article in the June Digital Spectator. To subscribe, click here.)

If the House fails to act, it will anger almost as many voters as it would if it passes the Senate's misguided version. (For reasons why the Senate bill is so misguided, see here, here, and here.) Millions of voters feel passionately that the exploding population of illegal immigrants, and the lack of control of our borders, is an issue of surpassing importance -- and tens of thousands of them will surely stay home on Election Day if nothing is done.

But because the Senate bill flaws are so great, the angry voters will stay angry if an amnesty bill such as that one passes -- even if, as is now the rage on some conservative sites, President Bush commits to certification of border enforcement success before any of the "guest worker" and "path-to-citizenship" provisions can take effect. The truth is that no matter what the timing of the unwise and unworkable provisions, those provisions will remain unwise and unworkable.

All of which is a long build-up to the conclusion that, as Brendan Crocker suggested on these pages last week, there is no better, politically viable solution available right now, and perhaps not ever, than the "no amnesty" bill by leading conservative U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. (Pence's original speech on the subject, given at the conservative Heritage Foundation, is superb.) The more that serious conservatives study the plan, the better they like it. American Conservative Union President David Keene, who has been hawkish for stronger border control, is saying nice things about the Pence Bill, and fellow hawk Newt Gingrich now writes this at Human Events Online:

One positive addition to the border-security and immigration debate is Rep. Mike Pence's (R-Ind.) bill, the Border Integrity and Immigration Reform Act. This bill is as close to the right solution as I have seen. It sets up a four-step process starting with what is needed and universally agreed upon -- border security. Second, it does not provide amnesty for people in the United States illegally. It requires them to go home. Next, it sets up a work-visa program using electronic bio-metric security based on conservative market principles.

After an American employer can, in good faith, show that no American worker will fill a job offer, a work-visa holder may be hired. The key feature is that, in order for people who are here illegally to get a work visa, they must go home, because work visas will only be issued outside of the United States. Fourth, once the program is set up, companies that continue to ignore the law will be sanctioned severely. I hope the House will take a serious look at Rep. Pence's thoughtful and pragmatic approach to solving this issue.


What bears stressing is that the Pence plan incorporates almost the entirety of the existing, House-passed bill that everybody agrees is tremendously strong on border enforcement. (It leaves out only two controversial, and unnecessary, provisions: the one that would tie up our court system by treating illegals as felons and the one that some critics said would keep good Samaritans from caring for needy aliens.)

Repeat: The Pence bill would crack down on illegal border crossings.

Only in combination with this legitimate crackdown (unlike the Senate's fake crackdown) would the Pence bill establish a program for non-citizens to work in this country. The twist is, they could join the program only by first leaving the U.S.A. and registering outside our borders, and they could return only for a specified job.

And the employers who hire illegals rather than the readily available legal guests would be penalized severely. Furthermore, the employers would not have any reasonable excuse for being confused about whether somebody is legal or not, because the legal visitors would all have a standardized, biometric ID card. Unlike mere paper identification, biometric IDs cannot be faked.

The Pence plan says: No card, no job. And no exceptions.

In short, everybody involved would have major incentives -- incentives lacking in all other proposals under serious consideration -- to act within the newly established legal bounds in this country.

The big problem with similar ideas in the past is that they all require the already-overburdened Immigration and Naturalization Service, or the border patrol, or some other federal government outfit, to manage the entire program. Of course, INS and its federal agency brethren can't even manage enforcement of the current system, so how would they handle a complicated, multi-tiered additional system like the one Pence envisions?

Pence's answer, taken from a white paper of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation (which promotes "democratic capitalism" and the ideals of America's founders), is that those agencies wouldn't handle any of it except for the computerized criminal background check that it already is handling routinely anyway. Instead, the program would be outsourced, competitively, to private bidders.

Repeat: Free enterprise -- the market itself -- would take care of the details.

How and why? Because the employers within the U.S. would pay them the same way employers now pay headhunters and employment agencies anyway.

As Pence explained in his Heritage speech:

Imagine for a moment asking millions of people to line up at the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City to obtain a visa to come to America and work as a guest worker. It would be a disaster. Now, imagine private companies competing against each other to process guest worker applicants and match the applicants with open jobs. Imagine the application of American business ingenuity to this process. That, my friends, is why this program will work.

There are plenty of other details to the Pence plan, but suffice it to say that as conservatives study the plan, they continue to find that just about every question is answered and every base covered, and all according to principles conservatives hold dear. Read it for yourself to see.

For now, these other details, in no particular order, bear highlighting: First, there would be an established limit to the number of visiting workers. Second, there would be a time limit on their stay. Third, they would have to pass an English proficiency test after two years. Fourth, they would be required to undergo a health screening before coming. Fifth, they must pay taxes just like American citizens. Sixth, they would not be able to be hired until after the employer could show it had made an effort to hire existing Americans.

And so on, in commonsense provision after commonsense provision.

In short, the plan is ingenious. Not only should conservatives rally behind it, but so should the White House. It provides the President with a near-perfect escape from the rock-and-hard-place dilemma of trying to please, all at once, Hispanics, big business, and the mainstream Americans who insist that the first requirement of a guest is that the guest abide by our society's laws.

Such insistence is absolutely the right thing. But it doesn't, by any means, require that Americans fail to exhibit our usual humaneness, nor does it require that we keep necessary jobs unfilled.

In sum, the Pence bill offers security and prosperity in equal measure. You can't beat that.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.