Our nation is in the midst of an emotional discussion on immigration. Given the level of interest and passion on the South Coast and around the country, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this matter.
First, in any discussion about immigration it is important to remember our nation's proud immigrant heritage and how that heritage has shaped, indeed built, our country. That's why there really is no place in this discussion for vilifying immigrant communities made up of people simply working hard to make a better life for themselves and their children.
There have been several peaceful immigration rallies, and I believe they have built awareness and moved the discussion of reform forward. I have discussed immigration issues with a broad cross section of my constituents including student groups, business owners, farmers and law enforcement. In all of these conversations, the common thread has been that our immigration system is in need of comprehensive reform, one that provides for our nation's security as well as our economic needs.
Congress has begun to act on this issue, with different results. In the House late last year, the Republican leadership brought to the floor a flawed bill. This legislation focused solely on punitive enforcement measures that would harm refugees and asylum seekers, and undermine our economy. I was particularly troubled by provisions that would have made felons out of clergy members, teachers, or health care providers even for providing compassionate care for undocumented immigrants. I voted against this bill for several reasons, not least because it failed to provide comprehensive reform. There are several immigration reform proposals currently being considered in the Senate and the status on those seem to change almost daily.
Comprehensive reform must certainly enhance border security, and it should also provide a humane guest worker program, and a path to legalization. We have to improve security at our borders through increased coordination with all levels of law enforcement and our neighbors, Mexico and Canada. In a post 9-11 world, stopping illegal immigration and securing our borders is critical. And ensuring that federal agencies do their job on border security will also reduce the strain on local law enforcement that must now spend too much time dealing with illegal immigration issues.
Establishing a humane guest worker program makes sense. This would provide a realistic solution for tracking immigrant laborers, many of whom are already working in this country, paying taxes, and contributing to their communities. There are many businesses in our country, especially in agriculture, that rely on immigrant labor and shutting down the flow of temporary immigrant workers would hurt our economy. We should not exploit these people but provide a means for guest workers to earn permanent legal status after meeting stringent requirements. A properly administered guest worker program would ensure that we don't encourage a race to the bottom in wages or working conditions. American workers also deserve that protection.
Finally, we must deal with the status of the millions of undocumented workers currently in our country. Mass deportation, as some have called for, would be unrealistic, inhumane, and outrageously costly. I support proposals requiring undocumented workers currently here and who wish to remain in the United States to register for a temporary visa, pay a substantial fine and any back taxes, and show a work history and a clean record. Permanent status would only be considered after workers meet future work requirements, clear additional security and background checks, pay an application fee, and meet English and civic requirements.
Quite simply, we need clear rules for dealing with undocumented immigrants who are already working in this country and for individuals who may be needed in the United States as guest workers. I am hopeful that both the House and Senate will soon agree on common sense legislation that addresses our country's economic and security needs in a way that is comprehensive: just, fair, and compassionate.