J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, speaks as immigration reform legislation as outlined by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that would create a path for the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, Thursday, April 18, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The current immigration system is a travesty. It is inefficient, uncompassionate and dangerous. It doesn't serve America's economic or social interests, and it undermines respect for the rule of law and our democratic institutions.
Fundamental reform is badly needed and long overdue. That is why I support immigration reform and why I initially joined a bipartisan group of senators to try and find common ground on the issue.
But it's also why I left that group. And why today, I must oppose the so-called "Gang" of Eight" immigration bill soon to be taken up by the Senate.
At the outset of this debate, the "gang" promised a grand immigration bargain: strict border security in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants already here.
Even before the bill was introduced, "gang" members distributed talking points that lauded the bill's beefed-up security provisions, new visa reforms and measures that would make the pathway to citizenship "long" and "tough." But once the "gang" produced actual legislation and once senators, the media and the public began to read the bill, it was clear the talking points didn't reflect reality.
After pointing out glaring discrepancies between claims about the bill and the actual text, senators were told they would have an opportunity to make changes during the Judiciary Committee's "mark up." But the four "gang" members on the committee banded together as a bloc, with Democrats, to defeat virtually all substantive amendments proposed to improve the bill.
Congressional approval of the border security plan? No.
Improve interior enforcement and strengthen workplace verification? Rejected.
Manage the flow of new legal immigrants? Failed.
Limit access to some of America's most generous welfare programs? Blocked.
As a result, the bill that will come to the Senate floor next week is essentially the same huge, complex, unpredictable, expensive and special-interest driven, big government boondoggle it was when it first came to the committee.
The bill does not secure the border. It doesn't build a fence. It doesn't create a workable biometric entry-exit system. What standards and benchmarks it does set, the bill simultaneously grants the secretary of Homeland Security broad discretion to waive.
It will, however, immediately legalize millions of currently undocumented immigrants, make them eligible for government services and put them on a pathway to citizenship.
Many critics compare the "gang" bill to the failed 1986 immigration law, which also promised border security in exchange for amnesty but did not deliver on its promises.
But the "gang" bill actually reminds me of a more recent piece of legislation: Obamacare.
Like the president's health care law, the "gang" bill was negotiated in secret by insiders and special interests, who then essentially offered it to Congress as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It grants broad new powers to the same executive branch that today is mired in scandal for incompetence and abuse of power. Total cost estimates are in the trillions. And rather than fix our current immigration problems, the bill makes many of them worse.
However well-intentioned, the "Gang of Eight" bill is just an immigration version of Obamacare.
That is why true immigration reform must be pursued step by step, with individual reform measures implemented and verified in the proper sequence. Happily for immigration reformers like me, this appears to be the approach being pursued by the House of Representatives. It is the only one that makes sense.
First, let's secure the border. Let's set up a workable entry-exit system and create a reliable employment verification system that protects immigrants, citizens and businesses from bureaucratic mistakes. Then let's fix our legal immigration system to make sure we're letting in the immigrants our economy needs in numbers that make sense for our country.
Once these and other tasks — which are plenty big enough themselves — are completed to the American people's satisfaction, then we can address the needs of current undocumented workers with justice, compassion and sensitivity.
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Since the beginning of this year, more than 40 immigration-related bills have been introduced in the House and Senate. By a rough count, I could support more than half of them, eight of which have Republican and Democrat cosponsors. We should not risk forward progress on these and other bipartisan reforms because we are unable to iron out each of the more contentious issues.
The "Gang of Eight" bill is not immigration reform. It is big government dysfunction. It is an immigration Obamacare. All advocates of true immigration reform — on the left and the right — should oppose it.
Mike Lee is U.S. senator from Utah and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.