'Elitism' Threatens Immigration Reform, Says Congressman

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Immigration reform may still be alive on Capitol Hill, but "elitism" inside the U.S. Senate chamber and in various media outlets remains an obstacle to the passage of meaningful legislation, according to some lawmakers and public policy experts.

House Republicans who favor an "enforcement-first" approach to immigration reform have successfully re-launched reform efforts with a bill authorizing 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the most porous sections of the American-Mexican border. The Senate is taking up the legislation this week.

But, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the "elite opinion" of President Bush and senators is still at odds with the sentiments of most Americans on the immigration reform issue.

"I have never seen such a disconnect between American people and the elite in our country as on the issue of illegal immigration," King said during an immigration forum organized by House leaders on Capitol Hill. "If we are going to restore the confidence of the American people we have to show we can secure borders. People ask me -- if you can't secure the border, how can you win the war on terror? If we are going to control our destiny as a nation, we must control our borders."

John Keeley, director of communications for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), shares King's assessment. He told Cybercast News Service that there is "no other domestic issue where there is this gap between the elite and public opinion." Keeley identified a mix of media outlets, special interest groups and public officials as being part of the elite.

The list of elitists identified by Keeley include the following: the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), President Bush and U.S. senators who support more lenient immigration legislation such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Keeley described the elite as a "motley crew" that has very little in common ideologically, but nonetheless favors open borders and "unfettered immigration" for their own purposes.

He also said some U.S. senators view contemporary immigration as a civil right and feel that illegal status is more of an "administrative nuisance as opposed to a legitimate distinction."

The Secure Border Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) passed the full House last week. The legislation calls for reinforced fencing and the creation of a "virtual fence" comprised of cameras, ground sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to move legislation involving additional border security measures to the House floor on Thursday, according to Kevin Madden, his spokesman.

This additional legislation would provide criminal penalties for the construction of tunnels between the U.S. and Mexico and for the expedited removal of criminal aliens. Another bill would reaffirm the authority state and local officials have to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Madden also said he was encouraged by the actions taken thus far on the Senate side and sees an opportunity to get border security legislation passed that will make its way to the president's desk.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has employed legislative tactics that would allow for the Senate to take up H.R. 6061 as early as Wednesday.

Carolyn Weyforth, a spokeswoman for Frist, told Cybercast News Service in an email that the majority leader hopes that the House will take action on border security measures before Congress recesses in October.

"Senator Frist still believes that we need to address immigration reform in a comprehensive way. However, border security is the most pressing aspect of immigration reform right now. Not enforcement-only, but enforcement-first," she said.

John Hambel, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, which organized the Republican forum on Sept. 12, said the House leadership is pursuing a legislative strategy that focuses on the enforcement questions already resolved in talks with senators.

"All of these provisions, in one form or another have been passed by the Senate," Hambel said. "We are trying to short-circuit any problems by taking something they (the Senate) have already passed as part of their larger immigration reform package and we are picking those border security provisions that are immediate and should be non-confrontational."

But with such a short legislative calendar remaining, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, has little faith that immigration reform will be passed this year.

"My own opinion is that somewhere along the line, it will fall apart, and nothing serious will be passed, and I'll be surprised if anything at all is passed," he told Cybercast News Service.

Sabato also commented on the different positions that President Bush and members of his own party, especially in the House, maintain.

"They're all operating from self-interest," Sabato said. "Bush has taken the self-interest of the Republican Party in the long-term as his mission, and that's why he has the position he has on immigration. The Republican Party in the House has its mission the preservation of its current majority in this election and both positions make perfect sense politically from their perspective."

However, Marc Short, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), said it is a mistake to conclude that President Bush is not supportive of at least some of the provisions in the House bill. "There's some reporting that suggests whole-hearted endorsement (by the president) of the Senate bill," Short said. "That's not been our impression."

Jeff Lungren, who serves as the communications director for the House Judiciary Committee, agreed and pointed out that a number of the enforcement provisions in the House bill were added at the request of the White House.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Hutchison and U.S Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) have submitted their own compromise plan on immigration.

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