Rarely does an issue invoke more interest than immigration reform and border security. During the U.S. Senate's recent debate of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, commonly referred to as the immigration reform bill, I heard from more than 2,000 Idahoans concerned about the legislation. Immigration reforms are past due. However, S. 744 would not stop illegal immigration while ensuring fairness for current Americans and immigrants. I voted against final passage of S. 744 because Americans deserve better, and we cannot afford to repeat past mistakes.
Unfortunately, the Senate bill resembles past immigration reform laws. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA) was sold on the premise that it would solve issues plaguing the 1965 and 1968 reform attempts. ICRA's proponents promised that, in exchange for legalizing approximately 3 million illegal immigrants, the U.S. government would finally, and effectively, secure our border. Sadly, these problems still exist and have worsened. The illegal immigrant population has since ballooned to 11 million, and the seasonal program promised to aid America's farms and ranches is bogged down in bureaucracy. Further, economists estimate an apprehension range of 40 to 55 percent, and the Congressional Budget Office determined that the Senate bill would only stem the flow of illegal immigration by 25 percent.
During debate on the Senate bill, I co-sponsored amendments to make necessary improvements, including an amendment to make legal status contingent on fully securing the border. The border must be secured before implementation of any other provision. I also co-sponsored an amendment to address the problem of visa overstays, which account for 40 percent of the undocumented immigrant population, by requiring full implementation of a system that will enable tracking of the entry and exit of foreign visitors. I am also very concerned about the lack of privacy measures to protect Americans from a national ID system, through E-Verify. I co-sponsored an amendment to require protections from such a system. These amendments were denied up-or-down votes, and I could not support legislation that does not ensure border security results, retains the current lax interior enforcement system and could further erode privacy rights.
Finally, no person who breaks the law and enters the U.S. illegally should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct. This is unfair to American citizens and those entering through legal channels. However, the Senate bill would allow anyone granted legal status to qualify for a tax credit for previous work when they were not legally authorized to work in the U.S. and current and future work. Without reform of this national-debt-worsening advantage, I could not support the bill.
The Senate passed S. 744 by a vote of 68-32. I hope that the U.S. House of Representatives will address many of these issues during its consideration of immigration reform legislation, which is expected later this month.
At the core of the national character of the United States stand two principles: One, we are a nation of immigrants; within our borders every culture and ethnicity in the world is represented. Almost all who live here can easily trace their ancestry to a foreign country. Two, we are a peace-loving, compassionate, law-abiding society. The United States, more than any other country, has a stable political and economic system because we respect the rule of law that maintains the peace and prosperity we enjoy. I am committed to advocating for what is best for both Idahoans and our nation. The Senate bill is not in that interest. We must not forget the lessons of past mistakes.