The immigration debate–already on a rolling boil for some time now–looks to spill over on to the stove as the Senate gets around to passing overdue legislation on the issue. The Financial Times lays out the triple threat of our current policy:
The Senate's deliberations, scheduled to start Tuesday and extend over the next two weeks, could reshape a national immigration system that is widely perceived as failing the foreigners who want to enter the United States, citizens who expect it to prevent illegal border crossings and employers who look to it for workers to fill jobs that many Americans refuse to do.
Late last year, the House of Reps overwhelmingly passed an immigration bill that increased fines and penalties for illegal immigrants and employers. That legislation, which pointedly refused to address guest-worker programs, was rightly seen as a slap at President Bush, who was widely attacked within GOP circles for talking up various types of plans that might legitimate illegals. The FT notes that immigration splits the Republicans in two:
The issue pits two of the party's core constituencies against each other, with social conservatives insisting on tough enforcement and the need to protect American culture and the business lobby calling for a reliable source of labor.
And it plays heavily into political ambitions, with every would-be presidential candidate staking out a position with an eye toward 2008. Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is pushing a bill that's basically a mirror of the House bill–tough on enforcement, with no provisions for guest workers. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing a bill that's co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and is approved by business types; Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) is pushing something similar. For whatever arcane reason, the Senate Judiciary Committee must approve a bill today for a vote, otherwise Frist's bill is the one they'll vote on.
Adding some fuel to the fire: President Bush will be making a speech about immigration today, at a naturalization event for new citizens. And in his Saturday address, he backed away from amnesty for current illegals.
Go here for a bit on America's ambivalence regarding immigration. Go here for an op-ed that Jesse James DeConto and I wrote about "who grew your Christmas Tree." And go here for our February issue, which features a DeConto's great February cover story on "America's Criminal Immigration Policy."