Issue Position: Immigration Reform
Our immigration system is broken. Our long northern and southern borders are not fully secure, and our ports of entry and coastlines are difficult to protect. After 9-11 we cannot afford to ignore the need for border and immigration security. Illegal immigration also poses significant problems that undermine public confidence in government, the rule of law, and the operation of our economy.
While we shouldn't be surprised that millions of people wish to come to the United States in order to pursue a better life for themselves and their families --immigration is, in fact, a central feature of our history and our success as a nation -- we need to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. It is estimated that there are at least 12-15 million illegal immigrants working and raising families in the United States. Their status, and the need for procedures to prevent more illegal immigration, must be a top policy priority for the President and Congress.
Border Control and National Security
Any meaningful immigration reform must include effective border security. Our border security agencies are currently understaffed, under-funded, and are not making use of new technologies to supplement the efforts of our border security agents. This must change. As a national security issue, the importance of securing our borders is clear: if we do not know who is coming into our country, we cannot fully protect the American people. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, this means redoubling our efforts at U.S. ports of entry in order to have as much information and control over materials coming into the country as possible. That is why I was proud to vote to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission early in 2007.
In the 109th Congress I also supported H.R. 4437, the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act," which would have implemented tough new standards and made use of state-of-the-art technologies to secure our borders. While I was disappointed that the bill did not include a way to deal humanely and effectively with illegal immigrants currently living and working in this country, I understand the urgency of putting new resources toward border security.
Another aspect of immigration reform that requires our urgent attention is to crack down on illegal human trafficking. So-called "coyotes" are responsible for bringing immigrants across our border, exploiting weaknesses in border security, and endangering people's lives. This sort of behavior is already illegal, but I support legislation that would stiffen penalties for human trafficking and give our border security agencies more resources to capture these criminals. In the 110th Congress I voted for the H.R. 2399, the "Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" to help end the practice of illegal human smuggling. By aggressively pursuing and forcefully prosecuting traffickers I believe we can cut off a prime source of illegal immigration in this country.
Employer Accountability and Identity Verification
Comprehensive immigration reform involves balancing two important policy objectives: We cannot turn a blind eye to employers who knowingly break the law by hiring illegal labor. But we also need to address the need for legal immigrant labor in some sectors of our economy. An exclusive policy of mass arrests and deportation is neither a practical, nor a humane way to manage the problem. Employers must be part of the solution.
The first step in addressing the problem of illegal hiring practices is to reduce opportunities for fraud. I have co-sponsored a number of bills in the House that would prevent employment identity fraud:
· H.R. 136, the "Identity Theft Notification Act," would require the Social Security Administration, when it learns that a Social Security number is being used multiple times, to investigate and notify the true owner and the Department of Homeland Security of the occurrence. This will help end the practice of using fake Social Security cards to obtain employment.
· H.R. 138, the "Employment Eligibility Verification and Anti-Identity Theft Act," would require the Social Security Administration to notify employers if they have submitted Social Security numbers that do not match with the corresponding employee names that they submitted and would require that the employers resolve this situation. It would also require the Social Security Administration to notify the Department of Homeland Security if workers in these instances are found not to have the legal right to work in the U.S.
· H.R. 849, the "Stop the Misuse of ITINs Act," would require the IRS to inform the Department of Homeland Security and employers if they find that an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (used by legal aliens who are not eligible for Social Security) indicates that a worker does not have the legal right to work in the U.S.
· H.R. 850, the "IRS Illegal Immigrant Information Act," would require the Department of Homeland Security to provide the IRS with information about workers whose visas and work authorizations have expired. This bill also would require the IRS to report back to DHS if it finds that these workers have continued to work illegally.
· H.R. 98, the "Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act," would require machine-readable strips on Social Security cards to give employers access to an Employment Eligibility Database (EED) and require integration of Border Patrol and FBI fingerprint databases in order to bolster enforcement of our immigration laws.
These bills, if passed into law, would help achieve the important objectives of holding employers to account for illegal labor practices.
Legal Immigrant Workers
Some industries, including our ski and tourist industries as well as our agriculture sector, often rely on immigrant labor. The purpose of the H-1B and H-2B programs, as business leaders in Colorado know well, is to achieve this purpose legally and efficiently, drawing talented and hardworking people from other countries to help keep America competitive.
The H-1B visa program is designed to allow highly-skilled workers to come to the United States to help high-tech industries grow and attract top talent. There is an annual cap on the number of visas that are distributed, encouraging some companies to operate outside of the United States to secure some of the workers they need. In order to help Colorado companies and businesses cope with the need to attract these workers without displacing American jobs, I have cosponsored H.R.1758, which would increase the number of legal immigrant visas, but also encourage the development of Colorado-based labor and worker talent.
The H-2B visa program serves a slightly different purpose but is of equal importance to Colorado's economy. H-2B visas are granted to foreign workers that come to the United States temporarily to work in low-skill, non-agricultural jobs. Our ski industry and tourism sector rely heavily on this program to fill a niche market of seasonal workers. This is why I have cosponsored H.R. 1843, which would make permanent a previous law that kept returning H-2B visa workers from counting against the yearly cap. This reform will help Colorado's tourism economy continue to grow and thrive.