Thank you for the opportunity to address the members of Comunidades en Accion y de Fe (CAFé). I deeply appreciate your hard work, dedication and service to the people of New Mexico, the southwest, and the United States.
In my time representing southern New Mexico, I have long been inspired by countless stories of people willing to risk everything to come here, work hard, provide for their families, while living free in our great country. I believe our nation needs an immigration system that promotes and encourages these individuals. Unfortunately, the immigration system we have in place today is broken. The United States has been and must again become a shining beacon of hope and prosperity. We must reform our immigration system to ensure immigrants are treated justly and fairly.
For the first time since 2007, Washington is willing to address immigration reform. However, the willingness to have the conversation is not enough. Congress must be committed to action.
The Senate's "Gang of Eight' has taken the lead in acting upon Washington's renewed interest in immigration reform. I commend them for crossing party lines and working to provide not only Washington, but also the nation, with a framework to build upon. I am strongly supportive of securing the border, addressing the needs of those already here and reforming our immigration system for the future --the pillars upon which the Senate plan is built. However, I do not believe the Senate proposal fully achieves the goals it set out to accomplish. The bill does not adequately secure the border. It places restrictions and caps on a range of important work visas. And, it calls for penalties and taxes instead of solving the problem.
The reality is that our immigration system is far too complex to be fixed with one comprehensive, sweeping bill. Legislation is only as strong as its weakest section. Separating out the debate simplifies the legislative process by allowing Congress to focus on one concise and specific aspect of reform at a time, instead of every facet of reform at once. The House immigration reform proposal is still largely unknown. However, it has been reiterated that any reform of our immigration system in the House will be done in standalone bills instead of comprehensive legislation.
The first standalone bill Congress addresses must be legislation that secures the border. Unfortunately, we know too well what an unsecured border means for America: millions living in hiding and fear, violent crimes resulting in the deaths of Americans and immigrants, and the seemingly uncontrollable flow of drugs. We cannot hope to help those living here without documentation as long as we ignore the safety and security of our border. An unsecured border is dangerous for our neighbors, it is dangerous for Americans, and it is especially dangerous for those who wish to become Americans.
Once the border is secure, Washington can turn to reforming our legal immigration system. The United States must rethink, reform, and modernize immigration. If we are to be successful in our reforms and encourage legal entry, we must create a system that provides applicants with quick responses, honest answers and just treatment. No one should be forced to wait years in a confusing and complex system. The creation of a guest worker program will provide the change and modernization we need.
The program should be market-driven with a nationwide job listing available so potential immigrants of any skill level may quickly apply, free of the arbitrary regulations and caps on guest work visas that we have today. In addition to reducing complexity, a guest worker program will allow greater continuity and enforcement of the visa system. The use of biometric identifiers, such as a picture or a finger print, will allow for streamlined and easy movement back and forth across the border. And, it will aid employers in verifying that visas are valid and to date, which will assist in reducing the incentive of illegal hiring for both employers and potential employees.
The simplification of the worker visa process will also have a resounding effect on legal entrance leading to citizenship. Currently, gaining legal residency, such as a work visa, can take years in convoluted bureaucratic red tape. Removing guest worker visas from the process will allow the government to focus greater attention and assets on legal residents and provide people with the timely answers they deserve. Prompt, straightforward answers for those seeking to become Americans represent one of the key components in successfully reducing the pressure of illegal entry, and I believe a worker program can accomplish this.
Finally, once the border is secure and our legal system is reformed, we can address those who are currently here. We need solutions that are fair, but that do not reward those who broke the law. We need solutions that will protect immigrants from harm and exploitation. We need solutions that solve the problem, rather than imposing taxes, penalties, and fines.
To do this, I propose asking just one question: "Do you want to work or do you want to become a citizen?"
If the answer is "I want to work," individuals can stay here, work, and contribute just as they are doing now. No one should live every day in fear and secrecy. The guest worker programs make it possible for millions to proudly and openly participate in our society, enjoy basic protections, and enjoy happy, healthy lives --without the fear of repercussions and deportation. However, the guest worker path is not a path to citizenship.
For those who answer "I want to be a citizen," individuals must follow a different path - a path beginning in their home country. Around the world, future Americans await patiently for their chance to become legal residents and citizens of our great nation. Some have waited for years, some for decades. Our solutions must not punish those who followed the law. We cannot reward those who broke the law by allowing them to remain, living the American dream, while they wait the same as those following the law. Doing so would disenfranchise the millions who followed the law. And, it would perpetuate the problem we face today by giving millions an incentive to immigrate illegally. Instead, we must adopt an approach that provides answers, justice, and the hope of freedom for every single person who longs to become an American.
Together, we can make this dream a reality. We can find solutions that make our country safer, better, and more just. We can build an immigration system that is the pride of the free world. The challenges we face are great, but there has never been a better time to meet them. For over two centuries, America has been the world's hope for freedom. The doors into our country should not be built with darkness and broken promises, but with hope.
My staff and I stand ready to listen and work with you on improving our nation's immigration laws. You each have unique perspectives, experiences, and ideas that are invaluable as we work toward a better future, and I look forward to collaborating with you and learning from you.
I commend you for your efforts to address these challenges, and I will stand with you as you continue to do so. Please know that I keep your organization's concerns over "promises being kept" in my heart and mind as we debate the important issues of the day. May God bless each of you, and again, thank you for your service to our nation.
Member of Congress