Today, Krikorian and Jiménez discuss the future of immigration reform. Previously, they debated the Real ID law, weighed the positives and negatives of tougher enforcement, assessed the presidential candidates' immigration credentials and determined whether restrictionists have reason to be satisfied with their efforts. They'll conclude their debate tomorrow by discussing the future of immigration reform.

Enforce the law, then we'll talk

Tomás:

Will Congress enact your preferred policies next year when there will be a larger Democratic majority and a pro-amnesty president?

Don't hold your breath.

When President Bush came into office seven years ago, the smart money was on amnesty passing in short order. But even before 9/11, it had run into a wall.

Then when the Senate passed an amnesty in the spring of 2006, veteran Washington hands all said the fix was in. But the House balked and nothing happened.

When the Democrats took control of Congress a few months later, they and the White House again assumed amnesty would roll through quickly. But they couldn't even get it through the Senate.

Meanwhile, border and worksite enforcement is taking on a momentum of its own. Half of the additional fencing mandated by Congress will be completed by the end of this year, and I can assure you that Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups will keep a close eye on further progress. Employing illegal immigrants will continue to become more difficult, as more and more firms sign up for the E-Verify system, including all federal contractors, and as the Social Security "no-match letter" program goes into effect after it overcomes legal challenges.

All this means that when the new president and Congress take office next January, they will not likely want to make legalizing illegal aliens their first priority. Clinton or Obama would be much more likely to use their honeymoon with Congress to try to move forward on health care, while just yesterday McCain pledged (for whatever that's worth) that he would not move forward on amnesty until there was "widespread consensus" (whatever that means) on the success of border enforcement.

Blogger Mickey Kaus has theorized — rightly, I think — that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the least likely or able to move an amnesty through Congress as president. Not only is her rejection of driver's licenses for illegal aliens a sign of greater caution, but anything she champions would be vehemently opposed by a united Republican bloc in Congress, something that would not happen with Sen. John McCain in the White House.

And, in fact, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton White House official (Josh Lyman played him in "The West Wing") and architect of the 2006 Democratic takeover of the House, has said that amnesty would not be taken up until Clinton's second term.

This doesn't mean there won't be plenty of wrangling over immigration. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter are likely to want to keep pushing a big McCain-Kennedy-style amnesty. Smaller immigration measures will come up and could pass, like the DREAM Act, the AgJobs bill or higher caps for certain indentured labor programs like the H1-B or H2-B visas. And there will always be reminders of the consequences of lax enforcement, like the controversy over the past couple of weeks about whether illegal immigrants should get checks from the stimulus package.

But tough enforcement measures could also pass, notably Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler's SAVE Act, a bipartisan measure with more than 140 co-sponsors that may even get a vote this year. Most importantly, this bill would phase in mandatory electronic verification of all new hires, institutionalizing the tools needed to help turn off the magnet of jobs.

If there's one underlying theme that will shape immigration politics and policymaking over the next few years, it is credibility in enforcement. Only after the political elite has shown a willingness to enforce the law — and proven that willingness through significant reductions in the illegal population — will the public be ready even to debate proposals for amnesty.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and author of the forthcoming book, "The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal."


Restrictionists are out of touch