Immigration plan leaves many questions

As the details continue to trickle in from Capitol Hill, I remain suspicious of whatever “deal” they’ve cooked up that will ostensibly provide meaningful reform to an immigration system has been broken horrendously for decades. I am increasingly wary of any deal that is described mainly through talking points and platitudes on the Hill rather than a substantive piece of legislation the public can review, reflect on and react to prior to its being rammed through the Senate, perhaps by the end of this week.

The more I delve into the specifics of what the Senate hopes to pass prior to adjournment for Memorial Day, I find myself with more questions than answers. Let me share my most vexing concerns on the eve of Senate action this week:

What’s the rush?

Last year the Senate conducted hearings, considered amendments and went through the regular legislative process to consider the McCain-Kennedy bill. While I wasn’t a fan of that particular legislation, at least the Senate allowed people sufficient time to reflect and amend the bill. In the present case, even senators who took to the airwaves on the Sunday talk shows were unable to point to a specific bill or discuss the legislation with any level of specificity. Why? Because the staff was still in the process of drafting the bill and putting the pieces together. This is no way to run a railroad.

Why not enforce existing law?

In 2006, Congress enacted the Secure Fence Act to provide for 700 miles of fence along our southern border — a border that stretches some 2,000 miles. As Rich Lowery from National Review pointed out last week, .00286 percent (or two miles out of 700 called for by the Congress) has been built. As to why Congress won’t build a fence sufficient to cover our border is beyond me, but two miles is hardly a courageous start. The devil is apparently in the details with the new bill they’re hoping to ram through before anyone notices the specifics relating to a fence: the Senate now proposes to build only 370 miles out of the 700 miles originally contemplated and enacted by the Congress. I could be wrong, but can someone please explain how less fencing along our borders makes us more secure?

Moreover, I’m tired of listening to congressional supporters discuss how illegal aliens will retreat from the shadows of society but be forced to the back of the line to apply for legal status. That claim is laughably absurd on its face: If an alien who is in this country illegally is allowed some form of legal protection to stay in the United States, he is placed at the front rather than the back of the line. Explain that to some resident of Cameroon who has followed our immigration laws to the letter and has been waiting and remains in his home country for permission to enter the United States legally. How about we enforce the laws currently on the books dealing with immigration before granting amnesty and legal status upon millions of people who have broken and flaunted existing laws?

Oh, and don’t forget the estimated 600,000 illegal immigrants who have thumbed their noses at legal deportation orders from a judge to exit the country. Where are they? And if we find them are we now going to allow these folks who have been adjudicated and ordered home a path to citizenship?

How much will this cost?

Late last week Heritage Foundation policy expert Robert Rector revealed some rather startling statistics that the Senate is apparently too busy to consider. Rector estimates that there are some 9 million (probably a low estimate) working-age individuals here in the United States illegally. Should the Congress provide amnesty or some other path to citizenship, the benefits paid out by the government to these folks will be in excess of $2.5 trillion, yes trillion, when they reach retirement age. Who is going to pay for all of this? Us, of course.

I only hope that senators take a deep breath and reflect upon the path they’ve embarked on to enact legislation that addresses real immigration safeguards rather than focusing on political posturing. Don’t hold your breath.

Christie contributes regularly to The Hill’s Pundits Blog. He is vice president of Navigators LLC in Washington, D.C. He previously served as special assistant to President Bush and deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Cheney.