New immigration bill would enforce border security, end amnesty and stop 'chain' migration.
By Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss
(As appeared in The Atlanta Journal Constitution)
The United States Senate is debating the most critical domestic issue facing our nation: illegal immigration. Georgians have sent the message loud and clear that they want us to address this problem immediately with solutions that truly secure our borders without granting amnesty or a new pathway to citizenship to the millions who have broken our laws. That is exactly what we are trying to do.
Today, our border is an open sieve and our law enforcement personnel have their hands tied. Some 12 million to 20 million immigrants have been allowed to enter this country illegally and to remain here indefinitely. They work tax-free, get free health care in our emergency rooms and educate their children for free in our schools. This is amnesty, and it must be stopped.
We are seeking to ensure that any reform Congress enacts will truly secure our borders first before any reform of our temporary worker system takes place. If you grant legal status to those here illegally without first securing the border, millions more will flood into our country illegally. That's exactly what happened with the flawed immigration law that was passed in 1986, and our country has been paying the price ever since.
We are seeking to ensure that any reform ends our current system of amnesty and prohibits a new pathway for U.S. citizenship or for permanent residency status for those here illegally. Illegal immigrants must come forward, plead guilty and pay a fine for having broken our laws. Illegal immigrants must return home and get at the back of the line to begin the lengthy process of applying for citizenship and permanent residency, just as everyone must do now.
We are seeking to ensure that any reform ends the practice of "chain migration," where nearly two-thirds of green cards now are awarded to relatives of those who are already here. Green cards should be issued on a merit system that measures the contributions a potential green card holder would bring to the United States. We must have a better balance between the need for family connections and the critical economic needs of our country.
We are seeking to ensure that any reform includes a biometrically secure identification program that would allow employers for the first time to instantly verify whether an immigrant is legal before they are hired. Employers today must guess whether documentation provided by immigrants is fraudulent or not. A biometrically secure ID would replace this guessing game with instantaneous certainty, and we could then hold employers accountable with much stricter fines for hiring illegal workers.
We believe that "temporary" must mean temporary in any new reform. Temporary workers must go home at the end of their temporary work period and they must be barred from eligibility for benefits afforded to citizens or legal permanent residents, such as welfare benefits, Social Security benefits or food stamp benefits.
And we are seeking to ensure that any reform recognizes English as the common language of the United States. Everyone who enjoys the privilege of living in the United States legally should know and speak our language at a proficient level.
Last year, a Republican-led Senate easily passed a bill to grant legal status to illegal immigrants without securing our nation's borders. We voted against that bill because it would have guaranteed a repeat of 1986, when Congress granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants but failed to secure the border.
We demanded to have a seat at the table in drafting this year's immigration reform legislation to ensure that the new Democratic-controlled Congress wouldn't repeat last year's bill or the failed 1986 Act. We could have chosen to sit on the sidelines and simply complain about the other party, but instead we have fought hard in a difficult political environment to ensure that the principles of our constituents in Georgia are included.
While we will reserve judgment on the final bill until the debate is complete, the proposal that was brought to the Senate floor is far, far better than the bill passed by the Senate last year.
It would secure our borders first. It would end amnesty. It contains no new pathway to citizenship and would force illegal immigrants to go home before they could be eligible for a green card or for citizenship. It would end chain migration.
It would give employers a fraud-proof system to verify whether workers are legal. It would force immigrants to learn English. These are the kind of conservative Georgia principles that we brought to the table and fought for. These are the principles that we will always honor and uphold.