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Jewish World Review March 18, 2002 / 5 Nisan, 5762

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

Bush isn't worried about alienating loyalist voters

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the same week that the House passed a bill 275 to 137 to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country while they apply for legal residency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had to cop to the ugly fact that six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it sent out a letter authorizing student visas for two of the dead hijackers.

President Bush was "plenty hot" about the student visas, while he praised the House for passing the immigration bill. After all, members were aiding his effort to reach out to Latino voters.

Apparently -- and wrongly -- Bush isn't worried about alienating those voters who don't believe that immigration laws were made to be broken.

To be fair, the House bill is not the outrageous blanket amnesty that some critics make it out to be. The measure would allow people illegally in the United States to remain here while they apply for legal residency, not citizenship. They'd need a job or family relationship to qualify for legal residency and they would have to pay the INS a $1,000 fee.

Hey, people may come here illegally, then marry or settle down and want to become legitimate. Why not make it easier?

Two reasons. One: INS inefficiency. Or as Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform asked, "Do we really want the same agency that issued a visa to (a dead) Mohamed Atta to be doing investigations and background checks on 500,000 or so people, about whom the only thing we know for certain is that they violated our immigration laws?"

Two: Since the House bill would allow immigrants to forgo an investigation in their home countries, it could make it easier for those with criminal records to win resident visas.

Already, according to a General Accounting Office report released in January, immigration fraud is "pervasive and significant and will increase." Worse: Even the "INS does not know the extent of the immigration benefit fraud problem." (Benefit here means naturalization or an adjustment in status, as in the posthumous Atta student visa notice.)

The other reason: "This sends out a signal that if you come to the United States illegally, you eventually will be rewarded," noted Mehlman.

The White House argues that Bush is working on reforming the INS. During the 2000 campaign, Bush proposed separating the INS into two entities, one to welcome immigrants, the other to enforce laws. INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar is working on it. Spokesman Ken Lisaius noted that the administration has ordered that an investigation into the dead Atta letter be concluded within 30 days.

That's not enough. Bush should not be pushing for looser immigration rules when the INS is sending out visa letters for dead terrorists. It's that simple.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., believes that if the House knew about the INS visas for the dead terrorists, the vote on the immigration bill may have been different. Aide Lara Kennedy noted, "This measure is going to be held up in the Senate."

Good.

Meanwhile, the White House has to recognize how immigration policies benefited the 19 hijackers. "There has been a firm resistance on the part of the administration to learn any immigration lessons from 9/11," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. "It's not a good sign. In this war, the home front is not a figure of speech."

In 1996, the Clinton White House put Veep Al Gore in charge of Citizenship USA, a drive to speed up naturalization for what savvy operatives saw as a great way to create instant Democratic voters among more than a million new citizens. Haste meant mistakes. Some 180,000 people became citizens before the FBI could do background checks; it turned out that 11,000 of them had felony records.

Critics on the right were outraged that the Dems would jeopardize public safety to win votes. If Bush thinks that those same people won't be angry if he turns a blind eye to immigration abuses in his quest to woo more Latino votes, he is in for a rude awakening.


Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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