I must be becoming more wizened than wise at this stage of my legal career to judge a bill by its title.  But the label of the proposal to be introduced this week by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R. Utah) lulled me into a state of naïve credulity. It seemed like a refreshing change from the usual stew of comprehensive immigration reform proposals in which a path to legal status for the undocumented tends to grab most of the headlines. 

The first part of the title to Hatch’s bill seemed as if, finally, reforms of the legal immigration system will be front and center (even if the last part of the title is all too familiar): 

Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act.” 

I should have known that, at a time when Sen. Hatch faces a primary challenge on his right flank by the Tea Party, he would not again show the colors of the old Orren.  That Sen. Hatch, as OnTheIssues.Org reminds us:

  • Voted YES on allowing more foreign workers into the US for farm work. (Jul 1998)
  • Voted YES on visas for skilled workers. (May 1998)

No, latter-day Orren has done a bait-and-switch with the title of the bill, because, as he describes its contents, nothing in it would improve the legal immigration system or help those who play by the rules.  His bill would instead:

  • Take away from the President the blanket authority to grant parole and deferred action, except on a case-by-case basis, 
  • End the Diversity Lottery,
  • Require “law enforcement agencies that are selected and enrolled in the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs to fully comply with the requirements of such programs or risk losing federal reimbursement for incarceration expenses,”
  • Provide “consular officers the necessary legal authority to deny members of known gangs from coming into our country,”
  • Require the Homeland Security Secretary to create a mandatory exit procedure for foreign visitors to the United States,
  • Require the Secretary of HHS to track and annually report the amount of welfare benefits diverted to illegal immigrants,
  • Ensure that tax dollars are being used to cover only American children in federal insurance programs,
  • Increase criminal penalties for identity theft, eliminate defenses and require the IRS to report to the apparent identity-theft victim (or his/her parents) if an employer has not corrected a Social Security No-Match discrepancy involving the victim’s SSN in 60 days after receiving notce that a no-match has been spotted,
  • Keep our national parks and federal lands safe and free from drug traffickers and marijuana cultivation.

Some of these measures may well be worthy.  For example, I have long considered the 50,000 green cards squandered annually through the Diversity Lottery program a national humiliation.  The DV program seems mostly a Congressional confession that pure luck is better at allocating scarce visa numbers than any form of thoughtful merit-based system our legislators could conceive — particularly given that for the last 20+ years the law has allowed only 140,000 employer-sponsored green cards per year.  I also think it makes sense to notify victims of possible identity theft about the improper use of their SSNs. 

The rest of the proposals simply seem beside the point with unemployment staying put at 9%.  Indeed, the enhanced consular authority Sen. Hatch would provide already exists to exclude persons if consular officers have “reason to believe” they are gang members or may engage in law-breaking activity after entering the United States.  And the limit on Presidentially exercised blanket parole authority seems a particularly unwise tying of the Executive’s hands, since that authority has been used properly by Presidents for many decades (recall the mass paroling of refugees by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower).

Aside from wistful nostalgia for the Orrin of old, what comes to my mind when considering his SOCLIASA bill are questions: 

  • Why not propose the recapture of the 600,000 unused green cards that our bureaucrats failed to issue over the last several years, so that Chinese and Indian scientists and engineers won’t return home rather than be forced to wait up to 20 years for U.S. permanent residency?
  • Why not vote to expand the annual 65,000 H-1B visa quota that already ran out with eight months left in the fiscal year (still the same number as when first established in 1990!)?
  • Why not add farmworker visas to help struggling farmers whose produce rots because legal workers can’t be found?
  • Why not pass the Start-Up Visa Act and the Founders Visa Act and eliminate immigration bars to foreign entrpreneurs who will create jobs for Americans?
  • Why not give a boost to the military and academia by allowing innocent DREAMers to get on a path toward legal status?
  • Sen. Hatch, why not stand up for your former principles on legal immigration rather than opt solely and clearly for personal job security? 

Indeed, Sen. Hatch, where are the JOBS that a well-drafted legal immigration bill would create?