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Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’ concerns over the compromise immigration bill,

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
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HH: By a vote of 69-23, cloture on the motion to proceed to the immigration reform bill was invoked this evening. I’m joined now by Senator Jeff Sessions of the great state of Alabama. Senator Sessions, welcome. Thanks for quoting me on the Senate floor today. I always like that.

JS: Well, you know, that was an excellent analysis and comment that you had. I thought it summed up some of the problems we have very well.

HH: Now before we talk about the specifics, Senator, let’s talk a little bit about process.

JS: Yeah.

HH: If at the end of the three weeks of debate that are now allocated, with one week off back, 41 Senators don’t like this bill, will they be able to stop it from coming to a vote?

JS: Yes. 41 Senators could block it. And we did have one significant victory today. Harry Reid has been indicating that he was filing cloture, and that it would be voted on today, and that he would finish the bill this week. In fact, he said that’s what he wanted to do. So I think there was a lot of push back, a number of Senators spoke today opposing this rush of this incredibly monumental bill, so now he’s been generous. He says we’ll do two weeks, which…but a couple of good things about it is one, we’ll have all this week, and then the next week, we’re in recess. And then we’ll have one more week, apparently, of voting. We could perhaps extend it longer, and we probably should. I think this is at least a month or more bill. I mean, this is huge.

HH: Oh, it is huge.

JS: It’s unlike almost anything we’ve done before. And as you noted, and I quoted you, we ought to be hearing from analysts across the political spectrum, we ought to be hearing from economists, we ought to be hearing from people who’ve adopted the Canadian system on merit based. You know, why haven’t we been hearing from them more? And so, there’s a lot of things that are so important that need to be done.

HH: And as you noted, it doesn’t even have a price tag on it. Now that’s out of my league. I have no idea how to calculate the cost on this, but there are people who do, and as you said, it hadn’t been scored by the Budget Office yet.

JS: No, it hasn’t been scored. Of course, the bill is still, it didn’t get produced until Saturday morning at 2AM, so I don’t see how they can score a bill until it’s in final language. They can’t, first. Number two, it’s so complex, it’s going to be difficult to score. Number three, and most importantly, CBO will score it over ten years. They did that last year, and scored it as $126 billion dollars over ten years. And they admitted that the numbers would be much higher in the out years. Now Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation, senior fellow who was the architect of welfare reform, a fabulous student of welfare and social benefits in America, he has calculated, and announced today, at a press conference with Senator Jim Bunning and I, and Brian Bilbray, Congressman appeared with him. He scored the lifetime cost of the high school dropouts that will be given amnesty as costing the Treasury $2.3 trillion dollars.

HH: Wow.

JS: And what he points out is low income people, where they really draw is in the later years, when they’re on Medicare, and things like that, which won’t be scored by the normal process. But he says it will weaken our Medicare and Social Security, and make it far more difficult to put them on a sound basis.

HH: Senator Sessions, what have you and your colleagues been hearing from the phones and the e-mails since Senator McCain’s announcement on Thursday?

JS: Well, I think our phones have been ringing. Where I’ve been traveling, I’m hearing a lot of favorable comments, because I’ve not gone along with it. But I’ve heard other Senators say their phones are ringing off the hook. I haven’t even been to my office since Noon, because I had…I made them give me three hours time, and I had plenty of time to talk for a while this afternoon with a half a dozen other Senators.

HH: Right now, if a cloture vote was held on the bill as it is written, do you think there would be the 41 votes to stop it?

JS: I don’t know. I think we’re going to have to go some to block this bill. I think there’s going to be a real effort to get this done.

– – – –

HH: Senator Sessions, a few of my particulars. I think opponents of the bill as it currently stands have an obligation to come up with their improvements. Here’s one of my concerns.

JS: Okay.

HH: This does not distinguish in any way between immigrants illegal from Mexico and Central America, and those who came from countries with significant jihadist networks. In other words, if jihadis have gotten into this country over the last seven years since 9/11, six years since 9/11, they would be entitled to the same treatment as a Mexican who came here fourteen years ago, and is aged 64 right now. Does that make any sense, Senator?

JS: Probably not. I do think that it only makes common sense that when we analyze people who come here, we should absolutely consider the possibility of their terrorist connections. We can do that, but that needs to be done in the home country before they ever come here. Presumably, it would be difficult, probably, to do what you say after they’ve been approved for here, but maybe we could certainly require an extra check, to see if they had any terrorist connections.

HH: Secondly, Senator, they require in this bill, the drafters, that every single Z applicant appear for a personal interview. Assuming that they come in groups of three, that’s still four million interviews at a minimum of two or three hours each. And then, the background check goes forward. Who is supposed to do all this paperwork, and the bill is silent on funding or any kind of deadline on this stuff.

JS: Hugh, that is the whole purpose of the trigger, and that’s…what you’ve mentioned is a fundamental flaw in this system, or danger. What we did in ’86 was we approved the amnesty, and promised to create an enforceable system. And of course, never did it, because the Congress never put the money up, and no president ever asked for it. So you’re exactly right. What if the Congress doesn’t put up the money, sufficient to process these papers? The people are going to get to stay, and they’ll just never be adequately checked out. The same is true with how many border patrol agents we have. And that’s why the trigger language is very valuable, but it does not cover nearly enough.

HH: Well, that brings me to subject number three, the broken triggers. One trigger is half the fence that was approved last year, but of course, probationary Z’s get issued from the day of the legislation going forward. Is it possible to insist upon the construction of the fence, all of it, double fencing, you know, the whole deal, before the first probationary Z issues?

JS: We’re going to have to go back and look at this trigger. It was stronger last year, and it was not approved last year. It got voted down. They said one of the promises and principles of the creators of this grand compromise was that we’d have a good trigger. They’ve got a trigger, all right, but it’s pretty weak. It’s basically the things that have already been done, or are about to be done, and does not really stretch the government. One thing they do not put in the trigger is part of the U.S. visit system that’s supposed to have, and it past due, a requirement that when you exit the country after you’ve come in, you put your card in the system, and it trips you out, so you’ll know the person left the country. If you don’t have an exit system, which was supposed to have been passed and in place in 2005, and is still not, we really have a weakness in the entire system, because you can’t tell if anybody overstayed.

HH: Wow.

JS: That’s not in the trigger, and it absolutely should be.

HH: There’s also a completely dense couple of paragraphs which I could not figure out, even working on it for a while, as to whether or not Social Security credits would be awarded for years in the country worked while illegal. Do you have an understanding on whether or not that is still in the bill, Senator Sessions?

JS: I do not, and that is something we are trying to analyze, and as to date, I do not know. That’s a very important matter. As a matter of law, having been a lawyer and a prosecutor, you can’t enforce, you have no right to enforce, an illegal contract. If somebody came in and created a false Social Security number, lied that they were a legitimate worker, they’re not entitled to Social Security. They can’t claim Social Security. As a matter of law, this would be a gift from Congress that would greatly weaken an already weakened Social Security system.

HH: Senator Sessions, the bill is explicit, though, that those holding Z visas, which would be the amnesty-lite people, would be eligible for federal student loans and federal work study funds. Does that make sense to you, since that’s a limited pool of resources?

JS: Well, I have my doubts about that, really. I don’t think I would support that. Even more so, it has language, the dream act language, that says that if you are here illegally, you can get in-state tuition. It reverses a law that banned illegals from getting in-state tuition, which I thought, you know, the first thing you want to do when you’re trying to reduce illegal immigration is stop rewarding it.

HH: Right. Now last question, Senator Sessions, thanks for your time today, the bill is very ambiguous, in fact, I daresay you can’t figure out what the ceilings are in terms of Y visas and Z visas. Do you know what the ceilings are, and should any final bill put a ceiling on immigration over the next few years, no matter how high it is, just so long as there’s a ceiling?

JS: Absolutely, we need a ceiling. We believe that the guest worker, temporary worker program, which they promised would be a real temporary worker program, and it’s better than last year’s, but not nearly tight enough in my view, but it allows 400,000 the first year. But the way the accelerants are in there, those 400,000 plus are in the country. Then the second year, another 400,000 plus is in, and in two years, we’d have almost a million workers. That’s way too many. I think that we’re going to have a push back on that. We’ve got to knock that number down.

HH: Senator Sessions, we look forward to talking with you more as the debate proceeds. Thanks for a great effort on the Senate floor today.

End of interview.

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