Columnist Chuck Green falsely characterized visa provision of compromise immigration reform proposal

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Columnist Chuck Green mischaracterized a congressional immigration reform proposal by falsely claiming it provides a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who "can make it across the border before the act becomes law." In fact, the proposal states that in order to be eligible for the naturalization program, an illegal immigrant must have arrived in the United States prior to January 1, 2007.

In a column published in the May 21 edition of the Aurora Sentinel & Daily Sun, Chuck Green falsely claimed that proposed immigration reform legislation agreed upon by a bipartisan group of senators and the Bush administration would provide a path to citizenship to any illegal immigrant "who can make it across the border before the act becomes law" and would thus "serve as an invitation to millions more to sneak in before any law is enacted." In fact, the proposal stipulates that only immigrants who have resided in the United States prior to January 1, 2007, would be eligible to participate in the naturalization program. Green also made the dubious and unsubstantiated claim that "the accurate count" of illegal immigrants in the United States "now is estimated at well over 20 million."

From Chuck Green's column, "Bill likely to trigger border rush," in the May 21 edition of the Aurora Sentinel & Daily Sun:

Before the Fourth of July, you'll be reading stories about a rush to the border. No, that's not right -- you'll be reading stories about a rush across the border.

President George Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy have endorsed a proposal for "immigration reform" that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants now in the United States illegally. And any who can make it across the border before the act becomes law.

And come they will.

With the prospect of American citizenship, millions more will be enticed to get into the act.

The reform "compromise" between Republican and Democrat congressional leaders, and brokered by the White House, was done behind closed doors without public notice, and it was rolled out with great fanfare Thursday afternoon. But despite being hailed by leadership as the solution to U.S. immigration troubles, the proposal was condemned by critics on both sides.

Perhaps the most responsible response came from Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina. "I hope we don't take a 1,000-page bill written in secret and try to ram it through in a few days," he said when the proposal was unveiled.

Formal debate on the bill will begin in the Senate this week.

Despite its many weaknesses, at least the bill provides a start of a serious national debate on the subject of how to stop the torrent of illegal immigrants crossing America's southern border, the inadequate defense of U.S. borders in all directions, and what to do with the millions already here.

Unfortunately the Bush administration didn't secure the borders before the "deal" was announced, and the brokered compromise will serve as an invitation to millions more to sneak in before any law is enacted.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has addressed the issue of eligibility for the "Z visa," which is a document that would allow an illegal immigrant to work in the United States in advance of beginning naturalization procedures. Contrary to Green's assertion, Chertoff stated at a May 17 White House press briefing to announce and explain the proposal:

When the law is enacted, we will begin the process of enrolling people who are here illegally on a probationary basis. Now, if you're here illegally and you've committed a crime, you're out. If you're here illegally and you've committed -- and you're a gang member, you're out. If you're here illegally and you're a terrorist, you're out.

But assuming your only violation is a status violation, you entered illegally, you can get a probationary visa to continue to work while we complete the process of your background check, while we hit the triggers. Once the triggers are hit, you will hit -- you will convert to a Z visa, which is a four-year visa that allows you to work in this country. You've got to pay your taxes, you've got to keep your nose clean, but you can come back -- go back and forth to your home country as much as you want.

It's renewable after four years, and if you've played by the rules, you can renew from year five to year eight. And if you do the math, you'll see once you've got that second renewal done, you will then be at a point where there will be green cards that will become available to deal with the undocumented workers. And the way this plan works is, once everybody has cleared the family backlog in year eight, we will make sure there are enough green cards available so that anybody who has paid the fines that are required, satisfactorily completed two terms as a Z visa worker, gone back home and filed an application, we'll be able to accommodate those people who qualify, getting green cards within the following five years.

So if you do everything that's required of you, if you pay your debt to society, if you pay your fine, if you pay your taxes, and if you go back to your home country, or if that's somehow impracticable, you go outside the country, and you file your application from overseas, you will then be able to get a green card sometime between the year nine and year 13, depending again on the characteristics and points you bring to the table.

This satisfies the requirement that you go to the back of the line, because the line will have been cleared; that you pay your debt to society, so it's not an amnesty, but it is a realistic opportunity for people who are here and have done nothing more than commit a status violation. And then those people will be able to get their green cards between year nine and year 13.

And here's the really important announcement I want to make -- it needs to get out there. There is a cutoff date for Z visas for people who are undocumented. The only people who will be eligible to get a Z visa as a person who is here illegally is someone who arrived in this country prior to January 1 of 2007. You're going to have to prove that you were in the country prior to January 1, 2007. (emphasis added)

After misrepresenting the visa provisions of the proposed legislation, Green dubiously asserted that "the accurate count" of illegal immigrants currently in the United States is "well over 20 million":

When the proposal was announced it was framed in the context of 12 million illegal immigrants already being in the country. That is laughable.

That number is several years old, and the accurate count now is estimated at well over 20 million. Before any legislation is passed and put into meaningful action, the number is likely to exceed 30 million.

However, The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 16, 2006, that the "20 million or more" figure represents the upper end of a wide range of then-current estimates beginning at 7 million. The Monitor reported that researchers from the investment firm Bear Stearns Asset Management had estimated in 2005 that "[t]here may be as many as 20 million illegal immigrants in the US today." The Monitor also provided sources for official and nonofficial estimates of 8.7 million (U.S. Census Bureau), 7 million (as of 2003, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), 12 million to 15 million (U.S. Border Patrol union Local 2544), and 11.5 million to 12 million (Pew Hispanic Center). Furthermore, according to the Monitor, "United States immigration officials have said the number has grown by as much as 500,000 a year":

Based on the national census in 2000, the US Census Bureau puts the estimate of illegal immigrants at 8.7 million. As of 2003, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services put the number at 7 million. Since then, United States immigration officials have said the number has grown by as much as 500,000 a year.

Those closest to the fight to protect US borders say the figure is higher. The US Border Patrol union Local 2544 in Tucson, Ariz., says the total number of illegal immigrants in the US today is between 12 million and 15 million.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, estimates 11.5 million to 12 million "unauthorized migrants" live in the US today. It bases its numbers on the "Current Population Survey," a monthly assessment of about 50,000 households jointly conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

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