The DeGette Report
(109th Congress Session 1, Issue 22)
December 19, 2005
Instead of Spreading Fear, Congress Should Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform
On Friday, December 17, the House of Representatives passed the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," which, despite its title, will do little to truly secure our border. It imposes draconian new penalties and threatens people's rights, none of which have worked to slow the tide of illegal immigration when tried in the past. I agree that we need to get control of our borders, but we should do it in a fair and balanced way. However, it is only part of the solution. We also need a program which recognizes our economy's need for workers and provides a path for earned-legalization.
Since America's founding, people from around the world have come to our country to make better lives for themselves and their families. It's obvious, however, that our current immigration system is broken. Our nation has come to rely on millions of undocumented workers, a situation that is unsustainable. Instead of working together for a compromise solution, however, politicians have preyed on people's worst fears. Now is the time for our nation's leaders to step up and address this pressing problem in a bipartisan way.
Fortunately, there is growing consensus for a solution that better reflects the values of our nation, which was, after all, built by immigrants. We must reform our system so that our immigration laws are enforced. We must also create a fair and reasonable process to citizenship, with all of the responsibilities that becoming a citizen entails. We must have strong borders. We must allow those who want to work here temporarily to do so legally and under humane conditions.
That's why I support a bipartisan bill in the House and Senate, the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act." This plan strengthens our border security, imposes tough new penalties on undocumented workers and employers who hire them, and sets up a new process for temporary workers to legally enter the country. It also establishes guidelines on how people here illegally can become legal temporary workers. Sponsored by Republicans including Representatives Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake and Senator John McCain, all from Arizona, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Democrats including Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, this immigration reform plan is a comprehensive solution that takes demagoguery out of this important debate.
Employers who hire undocumented workers and those workers themselves would face tougher penalties than currently exist. The plan would also create new, secure identification cards so that employers would know whether a potential employee was here legally. The bill does not create a path to automatic citizenship, as undocumented workers already in the United States would have to register with the government, pay a $1,000 fine, pass background checks and meet employment requirements to stay here legally. Only after six years of playing by the rules and meeting English and civics requirements would they be able to even start the citizenship process.
For many immigrants, America represents the freedom and economic opportunity that they do not have in their homelands. Contrary to much of the finger pointing of recent years, immigrants contribute a great deal to our nation. More than 60,000 immigrants, many of whom are not yet citizens, have responded to our nation's call and are on active duty in the United States military, including 50 who have died fighting in Iraq. They also make a significant economic contribution. According to the National Research Council, recent immigrants, legal and illegal, contribute $1 billion to $10 billion to the U.S. economy each year, with the average person contributing about $80,000 more to the government in taxes over their lifetime than he or she will use in benefits.
That is hardly the image of immigrants that many would have you believe.
Combining tougher enforcement of immigration laws, better border security and the creation of a temporary worker system, with the potential for citizenship many years down the road, reflects our Colorado and American values. It encourages people who are willing to work hard, create their own opportunities and play within the system to continue to become part of our nation, just as we have done for over 200 years.
Unfortunately, the Republican leadership chose not to take up this bipartisan bill. Instead, they took the easy way out and brought before the House on Friday a mean-spirited and unworkable bill, the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," which only addresses border security. It retroactively turns almost eleven million undocumented people in this country into felons, subject to deportation and forbidden ever to return to the United States. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff testified before Congress that it would cost "billions and billions and billions of dollars" - estimates are over $200 billion for five years - to deport every undocumented worker. This, of course, does not even address the practicality of how the government would find every, or even most, of these immigrants, confirm their status and then remove them from our country.
The cost of removing undocumented aliens does not address the question of the economic impact of the loss of these workers or the damage to our already weak international standing mass deportations would cause. The Labor Department estimates that, by 2010, there will be an increase of 7.7 million jobs that require little or no training. The reality is that these are jobs most Americans do not want and are traditionally filled by immigrants. Without the ready labor supply, a shortage of workers would damage our economy.
Instead of proposing a workable way to incorporate these people into our economy, the "Border Protection Act" simply looks for more and more ways to keep immigrants out and remove those already here. It would spend billions of dollars to build hundreds of miles of fences along the border with Mexico and greatly expand government officials' discretionary authority to make potentially life and death immigration decisions. It also places further limits on the ability of our courts to make sure people are treated fairly under the law. It is ironic to see people who say they are championing the rule of law by "cracking down" on illegal immigration at the same time support drastic limits on due process.
It's not surprising the "Border Protection Act" is opposed by groups on the left and the right, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the American Bar Association, the AFL/CIO, the ACLU, the National Retail Federation, and the National Restaurant Association.
We have the chance to fix this problem in a way that helps our economy, strengthens our border security and reflects our core, American values. Or, we can continue to be distracted by proposals, like the "Border Protection Act," that can never be implemented and will only help maintain the unworkable status quo. That's why Republicans and Democrats have come together behind the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act," which recognizes the primary importance of national security and our nation's continuing need for immigrants who seek America's freedom and opportunity to come to our country.