COMMENTS: Immigration Compromise

Immigration was Story of the Day. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled the draft of compromise legislation concerning the millions who live in the United States with neither legal residency nor work permit. The bill combines intensified barriers along the border with Mexico, punishment in the form of a $5,000 fine for violators already in this country and new program--dubbed a Z Visa--to offer them a path towards citizenship. Both ABC and CBS treated the plan as major news, leading with the announcement and offering detailed follow-ups. NBC (2 min v ABC 8, CBS 8) did not. Instead it led with an expose on the USArmy's body armor procurement.

ABC and CBS had already signaled the importance of immigration legislation in their eyes. CBS filed a Sharyl Attkisson Exclusive on the behind-doors Senate talks last Friday; ABC's George Stephanopoulos led with a preview of the deal on Tuesday. The plan was sponsored by senators from all positions on the political spectrum. At the White House, ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) was impressed at the "stunning moment of harmony," quoting soundbites of support "from the left," "from the right," and--oddly--"from the White House," as if the hallmark of George Bush's Presidency is Clintonesque triangulation. CBS Attkisson pointed out that "compromise, the bill's strength, is also its weakness. For every point that pleases someone there is another bound to anger someone else."

Sure enough, CBS' Katie Couric (no link) interviewed James Sensenbrenner, a Republican leader on immigration in the House. He called the bill "liberal amnesty." His bottom line: "I think the deal stinks." The President offered a well-honed line in contradiction: people "will be treated without amnesty but without animosity." ABC's Stephanopoulos (no link) counted votes and predicted at least 60 for passage in the Senate but found the House to be "where the political terrain gets tough." Opponents include not only anti-amnesty Republicans but also Democrats who reject strict rules for guestworkers. Many "vulnerable" Democrats will not support the bill "unless they are guaranteed to get 60 to 70 Republicans votes. That is hard to get."

CBS assigned Bob Orr to explain the law enforcement provisions of the compromise. Under the bill, the border with Mexico will have 370 more miles of fencing, 70 camera towers, and aerial patrols by unmanned drone spy planes. "Workers will be issued tamperproof cards complete with photos and fingerprints." On ABC, Kate Snow described how that Z Visa might change an illegal worker's life: it is a plan to "make them invisible no more"--no more fear of immigration police, no more prohibition on visits to family in Mexico, no more capitulation to an employer who refuses to pay overtime.

As for the future, assuming this bill is passed, new immigration laws may "bust up families" NBC's George Lewis warned. "Wives and minor children could get green cards but it is going to be harder for siblings and adult children." A proposed point system would give priority to applicants with better job skills and higher education, as opposed to ties of kinship. California immigrants rights groups see that plan as "patently unfair," CBS' Sandra Hughes reported, to the "nannies, gardeners and service industry workers" who make up the majority of that state's immigrants.


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