May 23 2007
By Eric Fleischauer
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said Wednesday that he would not support a pending immigration bill because "the whole bill is built around amnesty."
Shelby said he "would look favorably" on the bill without the amnesty provisions, but he said there are not enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill without amnesty. Under the bill, eligible illegal immigrants could apply for "conditional nonimmigrant" status, which would be valid for six years.
To obtain this status, the applicant would have to pay $500, undergo a background check, have no history of serious crimes and meet employment requirements. If approved for conditional nonimmigrant status, the applicant could apply for permanent residency.
Shelby said the bill "is nothing new; it's just a new wrinkle" on the law granting amnesty to illegal immigrants 21 years ago. Shelby, who was then in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he voted against that bill, too.
"If we were to pass this bill — and I'm afraid it might pass, although not with my vote — we're saying again, 21 years later, that if you break the law (and) stay long enough, we're going to give you a way to stay forever," Shelby said. "This word goes out all over the world."
He said removing the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants would disrupt families, hurt the economy and be expensive, but it is necessary.
"There's not but one way to deal with them," Shelby said. "They should have been dealt with long ago, like anybody who breaks the law."
He said his problem with permitting illegal immigrants to remain is that it encourages illegal behavior.
"We're saying it's OK to break the law. I think that's worse (than the status quo)," Shelby said. "I think it's just going to embolden those in the future that will come to this country. ... We've always been taught that we're a nation of laws. The question is, are we?"
He said he would probably support parts of the bill if not tied to amnesty. He said, for example, he does not oppose a guest worker program.
"We've got to know who's in this country (illegally) and needs to leave," Shelby said. "We don't. We have no clue today, and we haven't had a clue."
He said he favors securing the border before attempting immigration reform, but expressed doubt this administration has the political will to do so.
"I don't know if it will ever be secured. We talk about it, and we vote money for it," he said. "Will this administration or the next administration have the will to enforce the border, to enforce the law? It's been easier to look the other way."