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Putting illegals before the troops
April 6, 2005

What belongs in a congressional appropriations bill often depends on what will attract the least attention. It's often easier to hide a pork-laden amendment inside must-pass legislation. But Republican supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants are sorely mistaken if they think they're going to get their way by attaching Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho's "Ag Jobs" measure to the $81 billion emergency spending bill for the war on terror. We'll put it this way: If the appropriations bill designed to fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn't pass because of a misguided amnesty amendment, it'll be squarely the fault of supporters of the Craig bill. They can then go explain what happened to the soldiers risking their lives around the world.

Supporters of Mr. Craig's bill of course will never describe it as amnesty. On the contrary, Damon Tobias, Mr. Craig's legislative aide on immigration issues, told this newspaper last week, "it's rehabilitation." Allowing any agriculture worker who is in the United States illegally and has worked 100 days out of the year, which would cover the 18 months prior to Jan. 1, 2005, to gain legal status doesn't sound much like "rehabilitation." The numbers vary, but "Ag Jobs" would apply to between 500,000 and 1 million illegals and their families. The Craig measure, cosponsored with Sen. Ted Kennedy, would only encourage more illegals to cross over the border in the hope that future immigration "realists" will propose similar measures. It's irresponsible to attach this amendment to essential legislation to fund the war effort.

Meanwhile, the Senate Republican leadership apparently plans to block an amendment to the supplemental bill that certainly isn't pork or amnesty. Last year, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner drafted his REAL ID bill in response to the massive intelligence bill's failure to address critical recommendations of the September 11 commission. The House version of the supplemental bill, which included REAL ID (legislation which will make it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses) passed last month by a wide margin. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, however, says he wants to save debate on immigration reform for another day.

Mr. Frist's reasoning underscores the confusion on Capitol Hill over homeland security and so-called immigration reform. Complicit in this confusion is Mr. Craig's office, which hinted last week that if REAL ID is included as an amendment to the bill funding the war effort, the senator will also add "Ag Jobs." But REAL ID is a bill that will strengthen homeland security, while Mr. Craig's bill will not.

The impasse now threatening to block needed resources for our soldiers highlights the impending Republican breakdown over immigration issues. If handled ineptly, the issue of illegal immigration could do serious political damage to the Republican Party in next year's elections. For now, it's up to this newspaper and others in the non-liberal media to make clear that a vote against a supplemental bill saddled with "Ag Jobs" is not a vote against the troops. It's a vote against amnesty for illegal immigrants.