This may count as a mild surprise, at least in Utah. Orrin Hatch opposed the original 1986 amnesty bill, which passed over his objections, and the 2007 immigration-reform effort that sank into failure. Hatch has decided to support the current effort, he explains in a column for the Salt Lake Tribune, because this bill addresses the border-security problems the other two bills ignored, even if not exactly how he would have done it himself:
Is this legislation perfect or what I would have drafted? Absolutely not. But as it stands now, the Senate immigration bill makes sure that these 11 million people are paying into society, and fixes many of the pressing issues associated with our broken immigration system.
That’s why I will vote for it this week.
This legislation significantly strengthens border security. An amendment by my colleagues Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., means that an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents will be stationed along the southern border, more than doubling the current force.
It also requires that an additional 700 miles of fencing be built and that E-verify — an Internet-based system that ensures that employers hire only legal workers — be used by all businesses in the country, making it virtually impossible to work in the United States illegally.
Hatch rejects the claim that this bill is an amnesty package:
Some have said this bill grants amnesty, but that’s just not true. We have de facto amnesty right now, and this bill fixes that. The fact is that in order to be put on a pathway to citizenship, immigrants currently here illegally would be required to pay a fine, pass criminal and national security background checks and pay taxes.
Only after at least 10 years have passed and all five of these so-called “triggers” have been fully implemented can an illegal immigrant even apply for a green card. That’s hardly amnesty.
The Tribune notes that the junior Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, still opposes the bill:
His Utah GOP colleague, Sen. Mike Lee, hasn’t called it amnesty, either, but he says the legislation is still too easy on lawbreakers.
Lee will oppose the bill when the Senate votes, saying Congress should tackle this issue in pieces, starting with the border and ending with what to do with the undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
Hatch’s move began a few weeks ago, when he began pressing the Gang of Eight to toughen the border security provisions and get tougher on back taxes. Five weeks ago, the New York Times profiled Hatch’s growing influence on the direction of the bill, as the Go8 tried to build a wide coalition to pressure the House into action:
Members of the bipartisan group of eight senators who drafted an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws see Mr. Hatch as a potentially influential partner. He was an original co-sponsor of the Dream Act for younger immigrants and has shown a willingness to embrace other immigration legislation as well. Though he ran to the right during a primary challenge in the 2012 election, they believe he might be brought back into the fold now that he is safely ensconced in his seventh Senate term.
“Senator Hatch is somebody who understands these issues well, has a long history, and it would very valuable to have him support our bill, both in committee and on the floor,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the bipartisan group, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee with Mr. Hatch.
In an effort to increase Mr. Hatch’s investment in the legislation, Mr. Schumer and other members of the bipartisan group on Monday threw their support behind a Hatch initiative to begin collecting biometric information like fingerprints at airports to register immigrants when they leave the country.
With the exception of two Republican members of the bipartisan group who also sit on the Judiciary Committee — Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — Mr. Hatch is considered the other Republican member most likely to support the bill, which would give it some conservative gravitas as it heads to the Senate floor.
The biometric provisions made it into the final version of the bill, but a couple of other demands did not. Hatch wanted a delay on ObamaCare benefits for the normalization group, and also wanted a tougher approach on back taxes, both of which the Go8 refused. They did agree to block Social Security benefits during the normalization period and requirements to keep those without permanent residency from accessing welfare benefits, under pressure from Hatch.
The big question will be whether Hatch’s support puts more pressure on the House. The Senate will pass this bill soon enough, but the House leadership is more inclined to follow Mike Lee’s strategy.