Opinion: Columnists

Sen. Chuck Schumer's choice: Immigration reform or a campaign issue

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Op-Eds,Immigration,Campaigns,Chuck Schumer

Immigration reform, including the regularization of the nation's 11 million-plus illegal immigrants, appeals to a large slice of the conservative movement -- if it is accompanied by genuine border security, specifically a very long, very strong border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, calls the proposal for a border fence "dumb," but she impeached her own credibility by adding to that condemnation a declaration that South Dakota shared a border with Canada.

Dumb senators don't carry much weight with the public.

A large majority of Americans strongly support securing the southern border, and Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, campaigned for re-election to the Senate in 2010 on a pledge to "Finish the dang fence."

If the Senate makes the fence the centerpiece of the border security provisions of the immigration bill it considers this week, that bill will garner more than 70 votes in the upper chamber and immigration reform will pass the House this fall.

If the Senate fudges on the fence, substituting "guarantees of operational control" and promises of "100% sector surveillance" for the bricks and mortar of real, double-sided fencing, the conservative grass roots willing to support regularization will abandon the effort and go into opposition with a large part of the movement already there.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, and Sen. John Thune, R-SD, will this week both propose border security amendments to the Gang of Eight draft that sailed through the Judiciary Committee.

The draft texts of their amendments are posted but considerable "behind-the-scenes" negotiation is underway. The Cornyn draft seems weak on the fence, and the Thune amendment strong. Perhaps they can be merged.

Here is the elegant simplicity of the Thune proposal, as described by the senator's office:

"(Amendment 1197) An amendment to require the construction of 700 miles of double-layered border fence. Thune's amendment would require construction of approximately 350 miles of reinforced, double-layered fencing as a trigger prior to Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status being granted, with the remaining 350 miles being required before RPIs could apply for green cards. The 1996 immigration bill and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 required 700 miles of fence along the southern border. Only 36 miles has been constructed to date."

Note that the Congress in 2006 promised 700 miles of fencing. Note that the fencing wasn't built, which is why there is so much skepticism about this year's set of promises.

It's also why there is so much chuckling over the Gang of Eight's idea that plans will be produced within three or four months that will be implemented when seven years have passed since specific direction was given about the border fence and no fence was built.

The Beltway elites hate talking about the fence, deny its obvious utility, and seek to dismiss that effectiveness by pointing out the obvious truth that fences are not 100 % effective.

That a few can defeat that which deters the many is beside the point, and obviously non-responsive to the argument, and the refuge of dumb senators seeking shelter from the concise demands of voters.

Most voters want the fence. Indeed, a huge majority want the fence. They believe in it, and what it says, as well as what it does. The message is that entry must be by lawful means, not at will.

The proponents of immigration reform can have that reform, for the cost of a fence. It is a simple calculation, one easily and widely understood.

What isn't known is whether Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, really wants the legalization for the 11 million for whom he professes concern. If he does, he will push for the Thune amendment and for some of the Cornyn provisions.

If he wants an issue instead of a law, he will kill the fence and in so doing kill the bill.

Rarely has a choice been this stark or the responsibility so clearly on a senator.

So, Senator Schumer, what will it be? History or histrionics?

HUGH HEWITT, Washington Examiner columnist, is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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