Monday, June 18, 2007

Norm Coleman's keeping some windows open: Here is a letter from Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) to a constituent (and a generous reader of Day In, Day Out) on his stance on the current immigration bill (emphasis added):

Dear ------------- :

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns regarding immigration reform. I believe the current immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. I look forward to voting for a bill which would have provided for real border security, would have eliminated the lure of continued job opportunities for illegal immigrants, and would have provided a program that would have helped identify illegal immigrants in this country with their continued presence conditioned on learning English, paying taxes and being employed.

I could not, however, support the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) in its current form. S. 1348 was never considered by a Senate Committee and was brought directly to the floor before most of us had a chance to fully review it. Senate leadership blocked many amendments, including my own, that would have improved the bill. The repercussions of this bill are too great, and I could not in good conscience support moving forward with legislation that is incomplete and unfinished. For this reason, I voted against a procedural motion on June 7, 2007 that would have pushed the bill forward without further debate.

I believe that improving our border enforcement capabilities must be central to any immigration reform legislation. Our unprotected borders are unacceptable and represent a crisis which must be dealt with decisively and without delay. I am pleased that S. 1348 would require hiring more Border Patrol officers, constructing vehicle barriers and fences on the Southern border, monitoring the entire border electronically and ending the catch-and-release system that leads to many illegal aliens remaining in the United States, and that such improvements would have to be enacted before any permanent benefits would be given to the current illegal population and before any new guest worker program would start. This bill would also increase the penalties for many immigration violations.

I strongly oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. Any legalized status for people already here must not be a blank check that will encourage more people to enter this country illegally. In order to be here, I believe that immigrants must undergo background checks, demonstrate proof of employment, possess English proficiency and an understanding of civics, and pay a monetary penalty if they entered illegally. S. 1348 would do much of this, but I would have preferred more stringent policies in some of these areas. I would have supported more rigorous background checks than currently in the bill and stricter workplace enforcement if given the opportunity to amend the bill. I am pleased that under S. 1348 illegal immigrants would not be eligible for Social Security benefits accrued using a false number.

You may also be interested to know that I introduced amendments that would have ended the policy of sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities where local law enforcement is barred from so much as asking the people they come into contact with about their immigration status. As a consequence, these cities are able to evade their legal responsibilities to share such information with federal authorities. This is a gag order, and it essentially means the rule of law does not apply in these cities. My amendments (S. Amdt . 1158 and S. Amdt . 1473) would lift that gag order and allow law enforcement officers in these cities to inquire about an individual's immigration status and share their findings with the Department of Homeland Security.

While immigration reform must reflect the American values of fairness and opportunity, it must also show respect for the rule of the law. It is my hope that proper debate on a border security and comprehensive immigration reform can be held in the Senate, and the result will be legislation that provides for a safer, more secure and prosperous America .

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing from you and I value your advice.

Norm Coleman
United States Senate

So Sen. Coleman cannot support the bill in its present form, which he calls "so incomplete and unfinished." Will it still be unfinished and incomplete if the Senate were to consider the "package" of 22 amendments currently (maybe) pending? Though he prefers stricter penalties and more extensive background checks, he seems amenable to the ultimate goal of legalization of those currently without legal status, and he does hold out hope for a debate on "comprehensive reform." Sen. Coleman voted in favor of last year's immigration bill, and he seems to be keeping his options open for this bill so far--though he has been a little more skeptical about it. To my mind, he's still a toss-up. I think the next few weeks may be crucial...