August 24, 2006

Laffey-Chafee III: Debating Immigration

Carroll Andrew Morse

During Wednesday’s debate, when discussing illegal immigration, Senator Lincoln Chafee said “the most important thing on any issue is to be consistent”, then contrasted Mayor Steve Laffey's opposition to the amnesty-based immigration reform passed by the Senate to his support for using consular ID cards in the City of Cranston. The Senator believes the two positions reflect a politically motivaed flip-flop. Mayor Laffey's decision to allow Cranston to accept consular IDs is also the subject of the National Republican Senatorial Committee's latest anti-Laffey ad.

1. Senator Chafee supports the “John McCain” bill (also known as the pick-any-combination-of-names from McCain-Kennedy-Martinez-Hagel-Frist-and-Reid bill). The key component of the bill is the so-called Martinez-Hagel compromise. Matinez-Hagel divides illegal immigrants currently within the United States into three groups. Illegal immigrants who have been in the US for more than 5 years are immediately eligible to pay for permanent amnesty with back taxes and fines. Illegal immigrants who have been in the US for between 2 and 5 years are eligible for a temporary amnesty if they return to a valid point of entry into the US. Illegal immigrants who have been in the US for less than 2 years are required to leave, but may be allowed to re-enter as "guest workers". The defining characteristic of "guest workers" versus other categories of non-citizens legally in America is that "guest workers" are only allowed to stay in the US for as long as they are employed.

Support for the Martinez-Hagel compromise is the basis of Senator Chafee’s claim that he would support deporting illegal immigrants who have been in the country for less than two years. Yet, Senator Chafee also voted for Dianne Feinstein’s “orange card” amendment, which would have given permanent amnesty to illegal immigrants in the United States on or before January 1, 2006.

How is this consistent?

2. Steve Laffey has also criticized Senator Chafee for making illegal immigrants eligible for social security benefits and allowing foreign guest workers to be paid more than American citizens.

Here’s John McCain as quoted in the Washington Times describing how the current immigration bill deals with the issue of social security…

"We all know that millions of undocumented immigrants pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for years and sometimes decades while they work to contribute to our economy," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

"The Ensign amendment would undermine the work of these people by preventing lawfully present immigrant workers from claiming Social Security benefits that they earned before they were authorized to work in our community," he said. "If this amendment were enacted, the nest egg that these immigrants have worked hard for would be taken from them and their families."

The "Ensign amendment" (which failed by one vote) would have prevented work done by someone in the country illegally from counting towards Social Security. Senator Chafee is technically correct when he says that no illegal immigrant will ever collect social security under a measure he has voted for, but work done by illegal immigrants, even by those using someone else’s identity, will count towards an amnesty recipient's Social Security benefits.

3. And, bizarre as it sounds, a provision in the immigration bill allowing foreign guest workers to be paid more than American citizens does exist. It has to do with the arcana of labor law. Kate O’Beirne from National Review explains the mechanics…

The bill extends Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” provisions—typically the area’s union wage that applies only to construction on federal projects under current law—to all occupations (e.g. roofers, carpenters, electricians, etc.) covered by Davis-Bacon. So guest-workers (but not citizen workers) must be paid Davis-Bacon wage rates for jobs in the private sector if their occupation is covered by Davis-Bacon. Presumably because Senate Democrats’ union bosses thought this provision too modest, an amendment by Senator Barack Obama, approved by voice vote, extended Davis-Bacon wages rates to all private work performed by guest workers, even if their occupations are not covered by Davis-Bacon,
...while Mickey Kaus tries to explan what legislators who supported this measure might have been thinking…
First take is that this provision will effectively price many guest workers out of the market, not only because it raises the legal guest-worker wage, but also because it makes them a magnet for wage-related litigation from annoyed construction unions who will claim that the guest-worker wages don't meet Davis-Bacon's government-set "prevailing wage" standards....
4. Finally, Senator Chafee voted against requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify that the border is secure before any guest worker or amnesty program can be implemented.

So in sum, the current NRSC ad says that Rhode Island voters concerned about illegal immigration should vote for the candidate who has favored the broadest amnesty that has been proposed to date, who has supported allowing work done by illegal immigrants to count towards social security benefits, who has voted to extend American labor law to foreign citizens (but not simliarly employed Americans), and who voted against securing the border before implementing any amensty, all because of a decision by that candidate's opponent about consular ID cards.