Watching history in the making

Wednesday night, I finally turned off C-Span2 live coverage of the Senate debate of the comprehensive immigration bill, and I missed it. I missed the vote on one of my hot button issues - that English alone is our official language. An amendment to declare English as the national language and to designate English as the "common language" was presented and passed! Maybe there is hope for this bill after all.

It is extremely interesting to watch the debate on C-Span2. Our senators are working through numerous amendments to the proposed bill. Some of the amendments, if passed, would shatter the fragile bipartisan coalition and the bill would fail. Sen. Jon Kyl calls them "killer amendments." For example, supporting Republicans, including Kyl, will bolt if the end to the "family-based chain migration" part of the bill is altered. Everyone has their own hot-button issue.

Wednesday morning, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas put forth an amendment that would deny citizenship to immigrants who had a felony conviction in their background or who had presented false documents or ignored court orders. I would have voted for that, but it failed on a vote of 46 to 51. That was probably a "killer amendment."

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was eloquent and pragmatic as he spoke. As a member of the committee that formed this 400-page bill, he spoke of the difficulty of compromise. He said you have 100 senators and 200 different ideas as each senator has two ideas on each topic. He went on to say, "The politics of compromise may not be based on sound public policy. That is what we do. It would be better if I did it unilaterally." Laughter followed, but it's a good idea. "We couldn't satisfy everybody and it remains to be seen if we satisfy anybody."

Specter spoke of the thinking process to make temporary workers temporary by having them return to their own country in order to renew the work visa. "We want them to return to their own country," he said, "and not establish roots in our country." He went on to say that the requirements to be eligible for citizenship were loaded with compromise. Is the fine too high? Should they pay back taxes? Is the wait too long? The English requirement is not a problem; it is not about earning their own way; the problem is shaking the "amnesty" charge, he says.

Because of the widely divided opinions, this may be the best our politics can provide - a bill with many flaws. Some say the choice is to vote "yes" and take action because to vote "no" is inaction. Pass it or immigration reform will not be addressed again for many years. How's that for a scare tactic? To me, a "no" vote does not mean you quit.

The path to citizenship laid out in the bill is "overkill," according to Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. It includes everyone who is living in the U.S. illegally and is "unnecessary and impractical. Let's look for a better way," Webb says.

Sen. John McCain assures us that there is time (18 months) to fix the border issues if the bill passes before the law kicks in. Better get moving on that fence folks.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado wants a five-year hiatus - no immigration for five years to allow time for the melting pot to work and to see where we stand as a country. I like that idea.

One of the most debated parts of the bill is the changes in the current family-based system (bring in all your relatives once you are a citizen or have a green card). With the new changes, citizens can bring in spouses and minor children, but siblings and adult children would be subject to a point system. This is an area of heated debate and is a Kyl deal-breaker. With the new point system, a maximum of 100 points could be earned. Up to 75 points could be allocated for job skills and education, 15 for English-language proficiency and 10 for family ties. Some compare the point system to something the Soviet Union would do. Then there is my objection - is the system so complicated that we cannot implement it?

This point system would benefit immigrants from many Asian countries and India and harm immigrants from Latin America. Of immigrants in the last 15 years, more than half from Asia and three-fourths from India speak English well and had bachelor's degrees or higher. Immigrants from Latin America often lacked educational credentials and English language skills. More than 60 percent of adult immigrants from Mexico have not completed high school, and only 15 percent are proficient in English.

Whatever happens to this bill, and whatever happens in the conference to gel a House bill with the Senate bill, resulting laws must be implemented and enforced. The Rule of Law is the foundation of our country. Without it, who are we? Certainly not who we say we are.