What's Stopping the Immigration Bill

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson declared the United States "a country where the will of the majority is the law, and ought to be the law.&...
by | June 14, 2007

Alto In 1786, Thomas Jefferson declared the United States "a country where the will of the majority is the law, and ought to be the law."

T.J., how wrong you were.

If the majority really ruled, the federal immigration bill would be speeding toward passage. Polls show that a majority of Americans support the legislation, which would allow millions of illegal immigrants to legalize their status.

As it stands, despite President Bush's efforts to resuscitate it, the bill's odds don't look good. The reason is that in politics, breadth of opinion is often less important than intensity of opinion.

There's no better proof of that maxim than the way the gun control debate has played out over the past decade. Overwhelming majorities favor an assault weapons ban and mandatory waiting periods for buyers. But Congress has allowed waiting periods and the assault weapons ban to lapse.

Why? Most gun control supporters have ten or fifteen issues that they care more passionately about, but for, many NRA members, it's number one. As a result, Democrats were losing elections because of their views on guns and decided to back down.

Even after the Virginia Tech shootings, Democrats were reluctant to support a modest measure, providing funding for states to update a federal database that is used to conduct background checks on gun buyers. They did so only after gaining the NRA's blessing -- and making concessions.

Immigration is playing out the same way. Most of the intensity is on the side of those who want more border enforcement and view the bill as amnesty, a situation that's weighing heavily on senators who aren't sure where they stand.

Then again, Jefferson also said, with regard to Congress, "procrastination is unavoidable." Maybe he knew a thing or two after all.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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