The Once and Future Immigration Debate — Part II

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo., ret.) is the sort of Republican who used to inhabit the Congress: independent, iconoclastic and funny. While firmly in the conservative camp, he was not easily pidgeonholed. He was pro-choice, for instance,  and pro-gay rights.

He assumed Senate leadership in immigration reform back in the mid-1980s, though there was precious little political payoff for him in his home state. In those days, a yawn would have been a strong reaction from a Wyomingite about immigration reform.Simpson and cosponsors shepherded the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) — more commonly called the Simpson-Mazzoli bill — through both houses in 1986. The law has not been a resounding success. But Simpson believes that its failure was not structural. In an op-ed last year, Simpson and co-author Sen. Romano Mazzoli (D-Ky., ret.) wrote:

Although we have pride of authorship, we also believe that the shortcomings of the act are not due to design failure but to the failure of both Democrat and Republican administrations since 1986 to execute the law properly.

In fact, the legislation presently being considered almost exactly mirrors  the structure of Simpson-Mazzoli. IRCA was a “three-legged stool.” The first leg was improved border security and penalties against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The second was a temporary worker program for agricultural workers that included built-in wage and workplace protections. And the third part was “legalization,” which allowed some undocumented aliens to regularize their status and begin the road toward citizenship if the chose to.

“You have to have some kind of process to give them legal status,” Simpson says, “because anybody who is here illegally or without proper documentation is going to be beautifully exploited.

“Employers hire them, put on the payroll on the cheap, won’t let them go to the can, treat ’em like dogs, and when payday comes they call the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and have them deported,” he says.

“That’s the Wall Street Journal theory of immigration reform,” Simpson says, “I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of boneheads than their editorial board. I’m in their office and one guy says, ‘I drive in from Teaneck every day, and I’ve never seen an illegal alien.’ Their theory is that we ought to have an open border. Let everybody come and the market will control this. They call it capitalism.,” he says.

“Believe it or not, a lot of Americans believe in this, the use of human capital. But when you’re here illegally, you’re in deep trouble.

“During this debate, I used to go to the salons of Georgetown,” he says. “The hostess would say to me, ‘What about this immigration bill, Simpson?’ I’d say, ‘Are you thinking about Sylvia who’s working in your kitchen?’ I’d tell them the wealthiest people in American are using these people. That would get a lot of Chardonnay spilled on your shoes.

“Anyone here illegally … don’t come to me and talk about their human rights, because they will be exploited and used and abused,” Simpson says.

The third and final part of this series will appear tomorrow.