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The New York Times

Immigration Sabotage

New York Times Editorial

The Senate plans to resume debate today on its proposed immigration overhaul, which has withstood more than a week of bombardment from critics right and left. More than 100 amendments are circling, many designed to make the tortuously drafted compromise meaner, narrower and nastier.

The coalition that struck the deal has so far stood firm against efforts to gut its more generous and sensible provisions. While there is so much to do to improve this flawed bill, the senators also must make sure it doesn't get worse. That means beating back a particularly noxious amendment from Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Its ostensible purpose is to "close a gaping loophole" that Mr. Cornyn says would allow terrorists, gang members and sex offenders into the country. But his real target is bigger than that. He had no appetite for the bipartisan compromise and now wants to destroy it by attacking one of its pillars: a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million immigrants.

Mr. Cornyn would do this by significantly expanding the universe of offenses that make someone ineligible for legalization. Some people who used fake identity papers — a huge portion of the undocumented population — would be disqualified. The amendment would also expand the definition of "aggravated felonies," an already overbroad category of crimes, to include the act of entering or re-entering the country illegally.

Even more perversely, the amendment applies retroactively. So people who crossed illegally years ago — even those whose sentences have been suspended — would be subject to the drastic consequences of being declared "aggravated felons." They would face mandatory detention and deportation under already negligible protections of due process. Under the system Mr. Cornyn wants, someone who comes forward to immigration authorities in good faith and admits using a fake Social Security card could end up not on a path to earned legalization, but arrested and deported, depending on the whims of zealous prosecutors.

Those aren't the only parts of the amendment that could have been drafted by Kafka. A provision to keep out anyone who fails to show "good moral character" would give the attorney general broad discretion to bar any and all immigrants. That discretion would not be reviewable, secret evidence would be allowed, and an immigrant could see an application for naturalization denied and never know the reason.

This amendment is so far from the spirit of comprehensive reform that it amounts to legislative sabotage. It deserves to be decisively defeated.

© 2007 The New York Times

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