By Representative Lamar Smith
Congress doesn't have to wait until Election Day to respond to what the American people care about. Poll after poll shows that the American people are overwhelmingly concerned about jobs and the economy. They also consider national security an important issue. By making some changes to our immigration system, Congress can take action now to address the issues Americans care about the most.
We could open up millions of jobs for unemployed American workers by requiring all U.S. employers to use E-Verify. Last year, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan bill that does just that, the Legal Workforce Act.
E-Verify is a Web-based program that quickly identifies illegal immigrants in the workforce and protects jobs for legal workers by checking the Social Security numbers of new hires. The program is free, quick and easy to use. It only takes about a minute to run a newly hired employee through E-Verify and persons eligible to work here are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time. More than 375,000 employers already use E-Verify, and 2,200 new businesses sign up each week.
Considering its track record, it's no surprise that a recent poll found 82 percent of Americans surveyed support the expansion of E-Verify. And with 13 million Americans unemployed and 7 million illegal immigrants working here, now is the time to expand this popular program.
We could also boost job creation and improve our economy by allowing the United States to retain some of the world's best and brightest foreign graduates of American universities. Foreign students receive nearly 4 out of every 10 master's degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and about the same percentage of all doctorates. These students have the potential to come up with an invention that could save thousands of lives or jump-start a whole new industry. They also have the ability to start a company that could provide jobs to tens of thousands of American workers.
Unfortunately, our immigration system does not always put American interests first -- we select only 5 percent of our immigrants based on the skills and education they bring to the United States. Our immigration laws should not force the country to forfeit retaining some of the most talented students from around the world. We should make tweaks to our immigration system to allow more of the top foreign graduates of American universities to stay and work here.
Our immigration system should also better protect our country and citizens from foreign nationals who wish to do us harm. Recent events underscore the need to strengthen and improve visa security; we know terrorists use loopholes and weaknesses in our immigration system to enter the United States. In fact, all of the 9/11 terrorists entered the country legally on visas. And terrorists will continue coming to the United States legally if we do not improve and tighten our visa security process.
The Secure Visas Act, approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year, helps prevent terrorists from obtaining U.S. visas by expanding the number of visa security units overseas to areas designated as "highest risk" for terror threats. Visa security units ensure that thorough background checks are conducted on all visa applicants, not just a select few. The bill also allows U.S. officials to expedite the removal of terrorists who are in the United States on a visa. Visa security is critical to America's national security.
The safety of all Americans could be further enhanced by enacting the Keep Our Communities Safe Act that was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year. This bill is designed to prevent dangerous criminal immigrants from being released into our communities.
Recent Supreme Court decisions have ruled that under current law, illegal and criminal immigrants cannot be detained for more than six months when they cannot be removed to their home country in the near future. Because some countries refuse to take back their criminal immigrants, federal authorities have had no choice but to release thousands of dangerous criminal immigrants into our neighborhoods.
Tragically, there have been at least eight preventable deaths because of this loophole. We cannot continue to let dangerous criminal immigrants slip through the cracks of our legal justice system. We have a responsibility to make sure the laws of this land protect Americans rather than endanger them. The Keep Our Communities Safe Act provides a legislative remedy to this problem by allowing dangerous criminal immigrants to be detained beyond six months if they cannot be deported.
Election Day might be just five months away, but that shouldn't stop Congress from doing its job now. Congress still has an opportunity to work across party lines and take up immigration bills that will help put Americans back to work and make our country safer.