Issue Position: Immigration Reform
* Our national security depends on our coming together to immediately reform our broken immigration system.
* The solution starts with securing our borders. However, we also must hold employers who hire illegal immigrants accountable, and find a way to deal with the estimated 12-15 million undocumented immigrants already in this country.
* I have also heard from Coloradans working in the tourism, recreation, and agricultural industries that we need to expand legal channels for immigrant workers to meet the demand for labor in those areas.
Controlling our borders and reforming our immigration policies is one of the nation's most pressing problems, but politics is getting in the way of a solution, and more and more Americans are frustrated that Congress and the Bush Administration have failed to get the job done. Incredibly, the Bush Administration did not effectively start enforcing the law against employers who hire illegal labor until last year, and attempts at passing immigration reform legislation have stalled in both the House and the Senate.
There's been a lot of tough talk from both sides of the aisle, but neither side has got it right. Some politicians pretend that it's not a big problem, while others want to use the issue as a wedge to divide us. They're both wrong. Instead, cool heads have to come together, recognize the magnitude of the problem and get to the business of solving it.
The solution starts with securing our borders. Thousands of people enter our country illegally every day. That's got to stop. The 9/11 Commission made clear that border security needs to be a top national security priority. We need more border patrol agents, better technology to enhance border and port surveillance, and fencing and barriers where law enforcement authorities believe it will be effective. When it comes to border security, I believe my record has been clear:
* I am a cosponsor of the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2007 (SAVE) (HR 4088), which would add 8,000 new border patrol agents, create a pilot program to increase aerial surveillance, satellite, and equipment sharing between the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, and increase the government's ability to find illegal immigrants after they have entered the country by employing more agents and training additional state and local law enforcement personnel.
* I have repeatedly voted to increase the numbers of border control agents, and was a cosponsor of legislation to reorganize the INS after 9-11 (HR 3231).
* Since 1999, I have co-sponsored legislation that would crack down on human smuggling and trafficking on our southern border.
* I cosponsored the Immigration Security and Efficiency Enhancement Act of 2003 (HR 1464) which would implement specified immigration security and efficiency enhancements, including computer and other electronic applications, and would direct the National Records Center to maintain an electronic database of closed Department files relating to immigration, refugee, asylum and naturalization to speed up request processing.
* I voted in favor of funding the construction of a border fence through the Brown-Waite amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for FY 2008 (HR 2638) that directed $89 million to the Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology Account.
* I voted for the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and illegal immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437), introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), which largely instituted the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, including measures to strengthen border security and effectively enforce our immigration laws.
* I voted for the Border Tunnel Protection Act of 2006 (HR 4830) that would penalize any person who constructs or uses a border tunnel for illegal immigration purposes.
* Since the 108th Congress, I have cosponsored legislation authorizing appropriations for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). SCAAP is a reimbursement program designed to provide federal assistance to states and localities that incur costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens who are being held as a result of state and/or local charges or convictions. I also recently signed on a letter to President Bush to fully fund SCAAP in his budget for FY 2009.
We've also got to hold employers who hire illegal immigrants accountable. If an employer knowingly hires illegal labor or engages in employment fraud they should face tough criminal penalties. I have consistently supported legislation that would create a fail-safe employee verification system, as well as legislation since 2006 to prevent identity fraud. H.R. 98, the so-called Drier-Reyes bill would prevent identity fraud through the development of improved Social Security cards and the use of Employment Eligibility Databases, and H.R. 136, the Identity Theft Notification Act of 2007, would require notification of individuals when there is evidence of misuse of their Social Security account numbers.
We've got to strengthen our border security first, but it doesn't stop there: 12-15 million illegal immigrants are already in the United States. Congress has a choice: talk tough and try to score political points but accomplish nothing...or work together to try and solve the problem for the American people.
While there may be no perfect solution, it is unrealistic to believe that 12-15 million undocumented people can be easily rounded up and shipped home. Instead, we should implement the border security and enforcement measures described above, and also develop a process to identify illegal immigrants. This includes tough measures putting illegal immigrants at the back of the line for applied citizenship, requiring that they pay a fine and any back taxes, pass a criminal background check, and learn English. This "earned path" to temporary legal status and potential citizenship is a tool we can use to make sure that many hard-working immigrant families are treated fairly and humanely. It is also a policy we can use to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows, into a legal process that will weed-out criminals and those who exploit immigrants, and an important component of comprehensive immigration reform that I believe most Coloradans support.
I have heard from Coloradans in the tourism, recreation, and agricultural industries that feel forced to employ illegal immigrants because they cannot rely on enough legal labor to accomplish the work they need to be done. Reforming our immigration laws also means acknowledging that there is a real and consistent demand for labor in this country. Because of this demand, immigration reform must involve listening to those industries, recognizing that demand, and expanding legal channels for immigrant workers in needed areas, including expansion of the H-1B and H-2B visa programs. That is also why I am co-sponsor of legislation (H.R.1843) that expands the cap on legal immigrant worker visas, because I recognize that there are critical temporary and seasonal labor needs in Colorado.
As we discuss immigration reform, I believe it is important to elevate the public debate and appeal to our best instincts as Americans. Demonizing ethnic groups, spreading fear about different cultures and punishing children for the actions of their parents is not productive and does little to strengthen our borders or our economy. As part of my commitment to a fair immigration policy, I have also been proud to co-sponsor the so-called "Dream Act" -- which allows, but does not mandate, states like Colorado to set their own requirements for establishing in-state tuition. This bill would not provide in-state tuition for every illegal immigrant, but would give states the authority to help a narrow group of talented kids whose immigration status is not their fault.