U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today applauded Senate passage of a bipartisan immigration reform bill that first secures the border and then creates a tough but fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Kirk hailed the inclusion of key provisions to double the size of the border patrol, reform the Visa Waiver Program to include strong allies like Poland and expedite citizenship for non-citizens who serve in combat for the U.S. military.
"The American system unlocks human potential faster and better than any other system," Sen. Kirk said. "We are going to unlock the full American potential of 525,000 people in our state who will build businesses and boost the Illinois economy."
Over the last two weeks, Sen. Kirk worked with his colleagues to improve the border security provisions in the immigration bill. Yesterday, the Senate adopted a "border surge" amendment to add 21,000 more border patrol agents, require the completion of 700 miles of fencing, implement an electronic entry-exit system at all air and sea ports and mandate the use of the E-Verify employment verification system by all employers.
The immigration reform bill incorporates language from bicameral, bipartisan legislation Sen. Kirk co-led to enable strong allies like Poland to join the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of participating countries up to 90 days of visa-free travel to the United States.
"Poland is one of our closest allies and allowing their citizens visa-free travel to the U.S., a privilege that nearly all of our other close democratic allies have enjoyed for years, will further strengthen our bond," Sen. Kirk said.
Chicago is home to nearly one million citizens of Polish ancestry, the highest concentration in any city outside of Warsaw. Sen. Kirk is a staunch advocate of U.S.-Poland relations and has long fought for Poland's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program.
The immigration reform bill also includes language authored by Sen. Kirk, which waives certain naturalization requirements for any non-citizen serving in our military who earns a Combat Infantryman Badge or other award granted for engaging the enemy in combat.
"In my view, if you risk life and limb for America, you are an American," Sen. Kirk said.