Issue Position: Immigration
I believe illegal immigration is the number one domestic issue facing the United States and that we cannot wait any longer to address it. I also believe that the best way to address this crisis is by making the commitment to secure and seal the border as the required first step of comprehensive immigration reform.
On January 18, 2007, I introduced legislation (S.330) that spells out in detail the increased manpower, equipment and technology necessary to stop the flood of illegal immigrants into our country. My legislation also would prohibit implementation of its guest worker program until the Department of Homeland Security certifies to the President and to the Congress that the border security provisions in the legislation are fully funded and operational.
Those border security provisions that must be in place before a guest worker program can begin are spelled out in my bill and they include five main items:
* Manpower - authorizing 14,000 new full-time Border Patrol Agents as well as 2,500 new Port of Entry Inspectors and 250 new Deputy U.S. Marshals.
* Detention beds - authorizing detention facilities with an additional 20,000 detention beds to end the practice of "catch and release."
* Barriers - authorize additional barriers such as fences, roads or underground sensors where appropriate.
* Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- authorize more than $450 million to acquire and maintain a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles with high-tech sensors and satellite communication to allow coverage on the border by an unmanned vehicle 24 hours a day.
* Biometric ID - establish a biometric secure identification card program so employers can verify an immigrant's status.
Once the border security provisions included in the bill are implemented, my legislation would give individuals who are here in the country illegally one year to come forward and to confess that they have come to our country illegally. These individuals would be required to clear the terrorist watch list and a criminal background investigation as well as proving that they or the head of their household are employed. These individuals would then receive a two-year temporary, probationary work permit, renewable as long as they remain law-abiding, remain employed and complete within those first two years an approved assimilation program that includes English and civics lessons.
My legislation would not offer any special pathway to obtaining U.S. citizenship for these individuals. They would have to pursue citizenship by getting in line and complying with the same rules and procedures that are already in place for any other immigrant.
Addressing illegal immigration has been a priority for me since I arrived in the Senate. In 2005, I offered an amendment to the Iraq supplemental spending bill that incorporated several immigration reform measures -- including national standards for driver's licenses and identification cards- that are critical to national security. The immigration reforms were included in a House-Senate conference report on legislation to provide additional funding for our troops in Iraq.
In July 2005, the Senate unanimously passed my amendment acknowledging that terrorists and other illegal immigrants are taking advantage of inadequate security along the U.S.-Mexico border and calling on both nations to address the urgent need for increased protection and enforcement on the border. I also joined with several of my colleagues in introducing legislation to give state and local law enforcement officers the authority to help the Department of Homeland Security enforce the nation's immigration laws, including improving the government's ability to deport illegal aliens who have been ordered to leave the country.
In December 2005, I sent a letter to Mexico's ambassador to the United States strongly criticizing negative comments by Mexican officials on U.S. efforts to secure its borders and urging Mexico to stop encouraging the flow of illegal immigrants into America.
To get a firsthand look at our border security challenges, I joined Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) on a Congressional delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border on February 22, 2006. The trip included stops in San Diego, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Manzanillo, Mexico.
In San Diego, I visited the Smuggler's Gulch area, where many illegal immigrants try to make their way into the United States. The rugged terrain in some areas makes it tough for the Customs and Border Protection to chase down individuals on foot. I also walked inside a recently discovered tunnel that ran 2,400 feet from Tijuana, Mexico, to a warehouse on the U.S. side of the border in southern California. At the time it was discovered in early 2006, the tunnel had two tons of marijuana in it. At its deepest point, it was 75 feet deep and included water pumps, lighting and an air ventilation system. I also visited the San Ysidro port of entry. This port of entry processes some 50,000 to 60,000 cars daily.
In Arizona, I saw the only Customs and Border Protection Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, commonly known as a UAV, that was operating at the time. This UAV is flown along the border and, with its high tech infrared lens, it can detect individuals trying to come across the border illegally. Customs and Border Patrol agents use this detection system to catch these illegal immigrants and stop them from entering our country.
In Mexico, I visited the port city of Manzanillo to learn about its security measures. A significant amount of the containers shipped to this port make their way into the United States.
On March 9, 2006, I introduced legislation (S.2394) to provide increased manpower, equipment and technology to secure the U.S. border and stop the influx of illegal immigrants.
On March 30, 2006, I introduced an amendment to the immigration reform legislation being debated on the Senate floor to prohibit implementation of any guest worker program until the Department of Homeland Security certifies in writing that U.S. borders are sealed and secured, However, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on my amendment and shut down the debate.
When the Senate resumed debate on the immigration legislation on May 16, 2006, I re-introduced my amendment and made it even more specific. It prohibited the implementation of any guest worker program that grants legal status to those who have entered the country illegally until the Secretary of Homeland Security has certified to the President and to the Congress that the border security provisions in the immigration legislation are fully funded and operational. Unfortunately, the Senate refused to adopt my amendment to commit to secure the U.S. borders as the required first step of any immigration reform. The Senate defeated the amendment by a vote of 40 yeas to 55 nays.
In July 2006, I was the first member of Congress to propose using emergency supplemental funds to secure the border when I spoke on the Senate floor calling on the President to send a request for the funding to Congress.
I hope that my common-sense approach of securing the border before implementing any guest worker program will be used to set the foundation for comprehensive immigration reform. I stand ready to work with any senator on immigration reform as long as securing the borders is the cornerstone of that reform.
Below are photos from my trip to the border as well as news releases, floor speeches, and news articles about my role in the immigration debate. Please click on each individual photo or article to view.