Tim Walz believes immigration reform is a serious issue that deserves an ethical, economically sound solution. Walz supports enforcing employer labor laws to the fullest extent, using advanced technology to monitor the border, and increasing the number of professional border patrol agents. He also supports a path to citizenship for undocumented workers that requires them to return to their country of origin in order to begin the citizenship process. It is difficult but not impossible to reconcile a humanitarian response with one that ensures the security of American citizens.
Approximately 13% of the US population is foreign born, the majority of which entered the country legally. The Pew Research Center estimates the number of undocumented migrants in the US between 11.5 and 12 million people. The AFL-CIO estimates that without immigrant labor, the national output of goods and services would fall by more than 1 trillion dollars. The immigration of undocumented workers is difficult to address because these migrants make an effort to stay out of the public eye and are undocumented or falsely documented by employers.
Immigrants often accept jobs American citizens decline to take, but they can and do drive down wages in jobs Americans would otherwise fill. Despite the numerous federal laws that make it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers these workers continue to find employment. In 1999, under President Clinton, the number of "intent to fine" notices to employers of undocumented workers topped out at 417. During 2004 the Bush Administration issued only three notices.
The U.S. House and Senate recently passed very different proposals in response to the call for immigration reform. The House version proposes blockading our borders with hundreds of miles of fence and concrete wall roughly costing taxpayers $3 million per mile. Additionally, it criminalizes acts of kindness towards these undocumented workers, meaning American citizens could go to jail for offering humanitarian assistance. The Senate proposal dramatically increases the number of full-time border patrol agents and employs new cutting edge border surveillance technology. The two chambers further diverge in how to deal with the millions of undocumented migrants already in the country. The House bill criminalizes all undocumented workers, offering only jail time or deportation to most. In contrast, the Senate bill proposes a guest worker program, offering immigrants a chance to stay and work in the country. President Bush's proposal is similar to the Senate's version, but includes a plan to send 6000 National Guard troops to patrol the Mexican border in two week rotations.
Our immigration system is in crisis as a direct result of years of inattention by the Republican Congress. Many of the career politicians in Washington are refusing to compromise, hoping that they will be able to use immigration as a divisive, wedge issue in the upcoming elections.
First, mass deportation or imprisonment for the 12 million undocumented workers currently in the United States is infeasible. Estimates put the cost of sending all undocumented workers to their countries of origin as high as $230 billion dollars, a burden that is unnecessary for taxpayers to bear.
Second, President Bush's proposal to send National Guard troops to the border and the House proposal to build a concrete wall are both simple, band-aid solutions to the complex issue of border security. Our National Guard troops are not trained to perform border patrols, and as a retired National Guard Command Sgt. Major, Tim Walz knows that two weeks is an inadequate amount of time to retrain our Guard members to properly patrol the boarders. Additionally, a physical wall between Mexico and the United States will be not only expensive, but also ineffective. One need only to look to the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China to realize that addressing the underlying systemic problems is the only way to stop those eager for a better life.
Unsound economic policy
Big corporations exploit unskilled immigrants, offering an almost irresistible prospect for these workers and damaging the rest of our economic system. The Bush Administration has failed to penalize these employers, eliminating their disincentive for hiring undocumented workers. No fence will be high enough nor wall strong enough to keep migrants out of the country as long as big companies do not obey our laws.
Southern Minnesota's Representative Gil Gutknecht supports immigration legislation that is not only simplistic and purposely divisive, it also fails to solve our immigration problems. Gutknecht supports HR 698, which would repeal the principle of birthright citizenship that benefited many of our ancestors. Gutknecht is also co-sponsoring the Border Protection Corps Act (HR 3622,) which would authorize governors to draft citizens to patrol national borders. These extremist proposals complement the House legislation that criminalizes acts of kindness (HR 4437,) which Gutknecht also co-sponsored. These extreme proposals have been rejected by border-state Republicans such as John McCain, George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The proposals of several right-wing lawmakers expand the definition of "smuggling" immigrants, putting churches, non-profits and hospitals in a position where acting as a good Samaritan would mean breaking the law. Some Republican Senators have proposed amendments to immigration bills that would require anyone planning to provide meals, clothing or other charitable assistance to undocumented immigrants to register with the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone else attempting to offer services to illegal aliens could be arrested. These proposals are a slap in the face to religious communities who live by the principle of social justice.
The Walz Alternative:
It is imperative that we address the issues of security and economic stability in a way that ensures America continues to be the most free, most fair, and most compassionate nation on earth. It is the government's responsibility to address this issue in a way that allows for a humanitarian response, while also addressing the legitimate economic and security concerns held by American citizens. As a congressman, Tim Walz will pursue reform that strengthens our national security, protects the rights and dignity of all people and ensures that America continue to be an economic leader in the world.
Real national security
Implementing the recommendations of the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission will make America a safer place. When elected, Tim Walz will push to fully implement the Commission's proposals, including a comprehensive screening program for everything entering the country from containers coming in through our ports to people crossing our borders. Tim Walz believes the Senate's proposal, which calls for more full-time border patrol staff, the use of high-tech surveillance, and biometric cards to control transit across the border is the best way to start securing our borders.
Corporations hiring undocumented workers must be held accountable because the needs of American workers are more important than the wants of CEOs. When elected, Tim Walz will work to impose stiff fines on companies that take advantage of illegal immigrants, punishing the companies that undermine our local economies.
Tim Walz knows that we need to streamline a system of checks on employment practices. Walz is a strong proponent of biometric cards, a form of identification which is next to impossible to illegally reproduce. Mandating employers check these IDs will make it harder for them to continue illegally employing undocumented workers.
Patrolling the border and issuing guest worker permits to law-abiding migrants already in the country only scratches the surface of the issue. Tim Walz will work to address the failed trade policies between the U.S. and the countries of Central and South America that are economically harmful. Ensuring that Mexico is economically stable will help stem the tide of undocumented workers. Additionally, America must have an open national discussion concerning our economic future. We must determine the number of foreign workers this nation requires and visa numbers must accurately reflect our need.
Of the 12 million undocumented workers currently in the country, the majority are honest, hard-working members of our communities who contribute both to our workforce and our cultural diversity. Many have families in this country and children who are U.S. citizens. Deporting all these individuals would deplete our nation's workforce and rob us of neighbors and friends. Tim Walz believes we need to increase the number of visas issued annually to law-abiding people of all skill levels who desire to enter our country.
A path to citizenship must be available to those willing to continue to work hard, obey the law and contribute to our country. Tim Walz believes it is only fair that those whose only offense is immigrating without authorization are allowed to get in line for citizenship, but only after returning to their country of origin.
This path-to-citizenship plan does not require deportation of all undocumented immigrants. For each immigrant, a brief return trip to their home country is the start of a path to citizenship. Most trips would last less than two weeks, and would not require the applicants to lose their jobs, nor businesses to make significant changes. Instead of deportations, these are voluntary trips to Ellis Island-type centers in each immigrant's country of origin, where the naturalization process is set in motion. There would be no mass exodus of undocumented immigrants from America, because these return trips would be taken on an appointment basis, with a 1-2 year grace period for each worker to make his/her journey. In short, this plan is designed to minimize the impact of the return trips. Though the immigrants' path to naturalization requires commitment and sacrifice, it still offers a humane and reasonable approach to American citizenship.
Tim Walz will work towards a real solution that provides hard-working, tax-paying members of our community with a way to earn citizenship. Americans have a right to a truly secure border monitored with adequate professional patrol personnel. However, we must also honor our history as a nation of immigrants and act with compassion towards those who seek a better life here. These are compatible goals.