Th0-SiMpsorimMazzoli Wars Washington, D. C. AFTER DYING a highly publicized death last session, the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill is being resurrected just in time to become one of the most divisive pieces of legislation House Democrats are likely to face this election year. “I don’t know what will happen, but I know it’s going to be a terrible, terrible fight,” Chris Matthews, a top aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill told the Observer. The staff director of the House Judiciary Committee told The New York Times “there will be a lot of blood spilled and unfortunately it’s all Democratic blood.” Simpson-Mazzoli has the potential to crack Democratic coalitions. O’Neill and the California delegation certainly realized this when they postponed floor debate on the bill until June 11 after the California primary. And perhaps the first state to feel the electoral effects of this division was Texas, where Kent Hance rode the amnesty issue to a spot in the runoff for the U.S. Senate seat. In an effort to minimize the carnage, the House Rules Committee, which establishes the terms of debate for all legislation, held hearings early in April, giving the warring factions one more chance to come to some kind of agreement before the bill gets to the floor. They also sought advice on drafting the rule it is their job to decide how to provide for adequate debate on all the key portions of the bill without repeating the “filibuster by amendment” which occurred last session when the spectre of more than 300 amendments prompted the speaker to block action on the bill. But the two days of hearings in which more than 40 members of Congress testified, did nothing to foster consensus. They were, rather, a preview of coming attractions: the various points of contention were more sharply defined and the absolute lack of agreement made crystal clear to the row of reporters lucky enough Kay Gunderson, a former Observer staff reporter, is a freelance writer in Athens, Georgia. By Kay Gunderson to get a seat in the packed committee room. At the conclusion of his testioffered an apt summation when he said wearily, “I think what we’ll find is that one-third of the House is for every amendment.” It’s not as if this bill were thrown together in a hurry. In 1982, Sen. Alan reform legislation that contained Reagan proposals in a “streamlined” form. Since that time, 19 full days of hearings have been held, hundreds of witnesses heard. There was, however, so little agreement on the bill in the House that Speaker O’Neill approached Rep. Ed writing a completely new bill that would be acceptable to the Hispanic Caucus. Roybal’s alternative, HR 4909, has added yet another dimension to the conflict. Several uncommon alliances have evolved around the three central areas of disagreement employer sanctions, the guest worker or H-2 program, and the question of amnesty. It is these alliances that are proving so troublefor Democrats. Traditional coalition partners, such as labor and Hispanics, the UFW and the AFL-CIO, and Republicans and big business find themselves on opposing sides of major issues. Despite its prominence in the Texas senatorial race, the least controversial of the three parts of the bill is the question of amnesty. Congressman concern about “fairness” to those going through legal channels, while Rep. Hal amnesty provisions were “potentially staggering” and that state budgets already strained by new Federalism and deficits would not be able to bear the burden. Rep. Jim Wright is offering an amendment which would establish a two-step process, in which a legalized alien would have to be law-abiding, employed, and make an effort to learn English before becoming eligible for permanent residency. Wright said that, “Many Americans feel that it is wrong to provide blanket amnesty. The public is not ready to support blanket amnesty for persons who are simply able to prove that they have evaded the law for the past two years.” Some members of the Texas delegation would like to see some form of amnesty approved but are not now likely to vote for Simpson-Mazzoli in order to insure passage of the legalization program. As Rep. Martin Frost told the Observer, “After the Texas Senate primary, I doubt that too many Texans will be excited about voting for Simpson-Mazzoli. ” But the employer sanctions and the guest-worker portions of the legislation are the provisions that have seriously polarized the House along some very unusual lines. At first glance, one might think that both Republicans and Democrats are on the hot seat with their longtime allies the proposal to penalize employers who hire illegal aliens is certain to irritate big business, the traditional constituent of the Republican Party. Particularly hard hit will be agribusiness in the home states of both the President and Vice President. But it’s likely that damage to the Republicans will be minimal: the employer sanctions portion of this bill is the stick, but the expansion of the guest-worker program is a very nice carrot indeed and will go a long way toward soothing recalcitrant growers. The logic behind employer sanctions is simple. Proponents say that the most humane and efficient way to stem the flow of incoming immigrants is to remove the “economic magnet” that draws them. House sponsor Mazzoli said that these sanctions are “the centerpiece, the hallmark of this bill, the irreducible minimum to this bill,” a position generally supported by the Administration. But it is opposed by an unusual coalition of Hispanics and big business organizations. The businesses object to bearing the burden of enforcing immigration laws, while Hispanics say that, rather than take a chance on hiring an undocumented worker, employers will just choose not to hire Hispanics. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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