It’s hard to say what’s more disheartening: Sen. Rob Portman’s vote against the toughest immigration bill in Senate history, or his feeble justification for abandoning it.
In an op-ed penned on this page last week, Portman, R-Terrace Park, who actually claims to support immigration reform, writes that he voted against the Senate bill because, according to him, it “lacks effective” employment verification and employer sanctions measures that will “turn off the ‘jobs magnet’ ” for illegal immigration.
Maybe Portman was confused about which bill he voted on because the bipartisan immigration legislation the Senate passed June 27 – which was the result of hard negotiation and compromise – includes rigorous electronic employment verification and employer sanctions provisions designed to keep unauthorized foreign nationals from working illegally and bad-actor employers from gaming the system.
And just as Portman wants, the Senate bill expands E-Verify’s use of high-tech tools to prevent fraud and guard against identity theft.
And its enforcement provisions don’t stop there.
The bill provides billions of dollars in manpower and technology to secure America’s borders before any undocumented immigrant becomes eligible to apply for a green card.
It toughens up interior immigration enforcement, increases penalties for employers who hire unauthorized workers, expands the criminal penalties for unlawful entry into the United States and overhauls the legal immigration system.
It’s a bill that has earned support across the political spectrum, from the AFL-CIO to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a very good one.
Why then did Portman vote against the Senate bill?
That’s easy. Politics as usual.
Senate colleagues gave Portman a chance to include his E-Verify piece as part of a larger amendment that was guaranteed to pass. He turned their offer down because he wanted the glory of a separate vote on his piece that never came. His own party blocked votes on amendments, and he lost his chance.
The good news is that despite Portman’s opposition, the Senate passed the most sweeping immigration reform bill in 30 years – a bill that will secure the borders, keep American families safe and together, offer a tough but fair road to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, and give American businesses the tools they need to create jobs and compete in a global economy.
Yet, in light of the major concessions from both sides of the aisle to get to a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform, Portman’s vote against the Senate bill cannot be justified – especially given what’s at stake for Ohio and for America if immigration reform fails.
Portman may have one more chance to vote on immigration reform later this year should the full Congress pass a conference bill.
Hopefully then Portman will put the people of Ohio ahead of inside-the-Beltway Washington politics.