Estimates indicate that about 12 million illegal immigrants currently reside in our country and it is possible that up to a million more enter the U.S. illegally each year. Obviously this is a serious problem that requires immediate attention by Congress.
I agree with most Americans - that immigration reform must begin with strengthening our borders - and I support taking aggressive steps to gain operational control at our northern and southern borders. Although there was a general consensus in the last Congress that more border patrol agents, more detention space and more fencing and barriers were needed, the President and the leadership of Congress at the time failed to provide sufficient resources to meet the commitments made in the bill that enacted portions of the 9/11 Commission's report. The contentious debate over funding border control programs has continued this year in Congress.
We have sought to increase funding to add 3,000 more Border Patrol agents, in line with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and to provide additional resources to accelerate the construction of the border fence and vehicle barriers on the southern border. A second necessary step toward addressing the immigration problem is the aggressive enforcement of existing laws against businesses that knowingly employ illegal aliens. Although I recognize that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has increased enforcement of immigration laws at work sites, the punishment of employers who knowingly hire them remains disappointing low.
I am convinced that a strong majority of both parties in Congress and the country support these two basic pillars of immigration reform. Where people differ mainly is in how to treat the 12 million illegal aliens already residing in the United States. Millions of them work, pay taxes, and have families with spouses and children that are American citizens.
If the nation truly commits to guarding the border to substantially reduce the inflow of illegal aliens and properly enforces the law on businesses that hire them, I believe the interests of the country are best served by developing criteria that allow immigrants who have not violated any criminal laws to gradually gain legal status. I do not believe it is a perfect solution - and I deeply respect the opinions of those who disagree with my viewpoint - but I believe it is better and more feasible than trying to identify, capture, and deport 12 million people, splitting up the families of hundreds of thousands of American citizens in the process.