Columbia Missourian: Illegal Immigration Divides Candidates
July 23, 2006
By Maggie Creamer
Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., argues that more border security is the key to stopping illegal immigrants, but State Auditor Claire McCaskill, his Democratic opponent in the November election, says the better strategy is to keep immigrants from getting jobs.
While Talent and McCaskill emphasize different solutions to the problem of illegal immigration, they also share some common ground. Neither advocates amnesty for illegal workers, and both want to crack down on the people who give them jobs.
"I've spent a significant amount of time in rural Missouri, and I know that there are areas of our state that are under a great deal of stress in terms of health care, social services and education because of the immigrant populations that have come in because of corporate agriculture," McCaskill said. "So it is an issue. Frankly, it's an issue even more acutely in our border states."
Talent said the main way to prevent more illegal immigrants is through strong border security, which includes more fencing.
Talent co-sponsored a bill in the Senate to increase border security by adding more fencing, increasing border patrol officers, updating technology and increasing border checkpoints.
It also includes measures to prevent tunnels across the border and a plan in case of an emergency on the border. The bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee on June 23 and is still being reviewed.
"It begins with the border," Talent said. "If you begin to think about this, once millions of people come into this country unlawfully, it is very hard to do anything with them."
The expanded border security would also protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks and reduce the importation of illegal drugs, Talent said.
While McCaskill agrees the U.S. needs to tighten border security, illegal immigrants would not come to the U.S. if there were not jobs available.
"The reason those jobs are there is because employers now know that under this administration there will be no enforcement," she said. "They can do it with impunity, they can get away with it, and nothing is going to happen."
McCaskill said her background as a former prosecutor and as state auditor would make it easier to find ways to prosecute employers who hire illegal immigrants. A lot of the paperwork employers turn in is easily detectable as fraud, she said.
"We make more complicated and more difficult criminal cases in this country every ten minutes than a case that would show someone was knowingly hiring illegal immigrants," she said.
Also, enforcing the laws against employers would not be very expensive, because if the law is enforced against a few employers, it will have a deterrent effect on others.
"People are not going to want to hire illegal immigrants if they think there will be consequences," McCaskill said.
Americans would fill jobs illegal immigrants now have if the employers began to hire citizens, McCaskill said. If there is not a large enough workforce after employers stop hiring illegal immigrants, then the government will need to look for a solution at that time.
"But this idea that is it 'wink, wink, nod, nod', where we jump up and down and say illegal immigrants are terrible and then we say to employers it is OK to hire them, that is wrong," she said.
Once there are no jobs left, McCaskill said she is confident immigrants will return to their home country and can then apply for legal status like anyone else in the world.
McCaskill and Talent both agree the solution is not to grant amnesty to immigrants in the country because they are here unlawfully.
When the U.S. tried amnesty in the past, Talent said the number of illegal immigrants significantly increased.
"The value of permanent residency in the United States, much less citizenship, is so great to people around the world that if they think ... Congress will eventually give those things to them, the pressure on the border is going to increase," he said.
Another point both candidates agree on is that the U.S. is not ready to expand its guest worker program. McCaskill said the guest worker system does not work because people enter the country legally with their guest worker visas and then disappear.
"How do they just disappear?" she said. "How do we keep track of them? Until the government shows it can keep track of the illegal immigrants that we are allowing into the guest worker program, I cannot imagine it is a good idea to expand it."
Talent said instead of expanding the guest worker program, the U.S. needs to look at fixing the legal immigration system and possibly expanding quotas so people will be more likely to have a chance to immigrate legally.
He added that his office regularly has a couple hundred immigrants who have Missouri sponsors and are attempting to immigrate legally.
"It's a completely nonfunctional system, which is why I argue that we cannot, on top of this, put a multi-tiered amnesty program for 12 to 13 million people and a huge new guest worker program," Talent said. "It's impossible."