Is the amnesty bill's "points system" a sham? Update: Senate votes to retain "sanctuary cities"

Sure is, says Stanley Kurtz, who’s got the best piece today in NRO’s ongoing full-court press. Kate O’Beirne’s hearing that there are already “about 60” votes in favor, and today’s editorial emphasizes that the bill grants amnesty as soon as it’s enacted, not when the border-enforcement “triggers” (which are merely spending targets anyway, not hard results-based targets) are satisfied. That’s sort of true and sort of not: per section 601(h), an alien isn’t given probationary status until he formally applies for a Z visa, which many of them won’t do if they can’t afford the $5K fine or don’t want to risk having to go back home to receive their visa. But NRO’s right that once the application is filed, they can’t be deported. Quoting section 601(h)(1)(C):

[An alien who files an application for Z nonimmigrant status] may not be detained for immigration purposes, determined inadmissible or deportable, or removed pending final adjudication of the alien’s application, unless the alien is determined to be ineligible for Z nonimmigrant status…

NRO asks what happens to illegals who are on probationary status if the government never reaches the enforcement triggers. Do they stay probies forever or go back to being illegal? Or would “compassion” require that we immediately legalize them to help bring them out of the shadows of probation? You know the answer.

But back to Kurtz. Remember, the big innovation in the bill, and the supposed sop to conservatives, is that they’ve done away with family unification as the key criterion for green cards and replaced it with a “points system” based on education and job skills. Minor detail, says Kurtz: that transition won’t happen for another eight years, during which time the unholy union of business interests and open-borders tools will have plenty of time to kill the “points system” entirely.

Listen to the liberal San Francisco Chronicle: Kennedy is “among the craftiest lawmakers in the Senate. His aides insisted the family-based system will remain intact. For the next eight years, they said, the proposal would award 75 percent of new green cards to family members to clear the existing backlogs.”

So one of the key conservative victories in the grand immigration bargain is in reality a defeat. The advertised shift from family unification (currently 60 percent of legal immigration) to a merit-based point system actually disguises a 15-percent increase in family-based immigration…

And there’s more. Kennedy’s got a failsafe mechanism that his aides haven’t mentioned yet. The proposed merit-based point system could be openly cut back in favor of a return to family unification, but there’s a smarter and more subtle way to kill the compromise. The point system can be subverted from within.

While the point totals allocated for employment-related criteria (47), education (28), knowledge of English (15), and family connections (10) have been revealed, no one has yet said how many points it takes to achieve a passing grade. If it takes 70 out of 100 points to pass, then the “new” (eight years from now!) system would clearly favor highly-educated immigrants. But if the “pass mark” is, say, only 30 points, then with 10 points allocated for family relationships, the supposed merit-based system would end up admitting pretty much the same folks who are already coming in under the family reunification policy. Clever, huh?

The LA Times quotes Congressional aides as saying the pass mark will probably end up being 55, and what’s more, the points for “family connections” won’t be taken into account until they already have 55 points in other areas. Expect that to change as amendments are offered this week and next, but it’s worth flagging now to make the comparisons easier later between what they started with and what they finally ended up with. Meanwhile, a question arises: Could the Democrats pack so much amnesty into the bill that even Bush would have to consider vetoing? Trent Lott thinks/hopes so and is urging the president to draw a line in the sand, to the grim amusement of his fellow congressional Republicans:

The former Senate Republican leader said he told Mr. Bush this in a recent conversation, telling the president “it’s important you emphasize that you want immigration reform, but not just any immigration reform.”

But other Republicans laughed at that notion, saying there is no way Mr. Bush would veto a bill that reaches his desk.

“Whatever might be described as ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’ if it is put in front of the president, it will be the equivalent of hanging a pork chop in front of a hungry dog,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.

Mel Martinez’s sub-moronic comment about amnesty saving the GOP is also getting strong reactions, but not in the vein of amusement.

I’ll leave you with George Will’s column today, which offers up this little chestnut about the myth that a population of illegals is needed if only to support the welfare state:

On Monday, however, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation stunned some senators who heard his argument that continuing, under family-based immigration, to import a low-skilled population will cost the welfare state far more than the immigrants’ contributions to the economy and government. He argued that low-skilled immigrants are costly to the welfare state at every point in their life cycle and are very costly when elderly. Just the 9 million to 10 million adults already here illegally will, if given amnesty, cost an average of $300,000 — cumulatively, more than $2.5 trillion— in various entitlements (Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, housing, etc.) over 30 years.

Update: Norm Coleman offered an amendment today that would have required local law enforcement to simply ask about immigration status during investigations and then report the information to federal authorities. Final vote: 49-48 against. McCain did the right thing on this one. Go read Captain Ed to see how our friend Mel Martinez, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, did.

Seven Republicans voted with the majority. Like Ed says, if any two had switched their vote, the amendment would have passed.