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The Waco Tribune-Herald - Congressional Candidates Weigh In On Immigration

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Congressional Candidates Weigh In On Immigration

Dan Genz , Waco Tribune-Herald

The upcoming 17th Congressional District election gives voters a choice between two candidates who say securing the Mexican border is paramount but differ on whether the millions of immigrants already here should be able to earn legal status without leaving the country first.

Republican challenger Van Taylor says applicants for a guest-worker program must come from outside the border, while incumbent U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, says he would consider a program allowing illegal immigrants to seek legal status if their jobs could not be filled by legal residents.

After President Bush outlined his stance in an address this week, both candidates applauded his message and say they are glad securing the borders will be one of the highest-profile questions of the campaign.

Edwards is lining up close to Bush's position, while Taylor is pushing for a more stringent approach.

"I don't want to give a free check to anyone who has come into our country illegally," Edwards said, "but I think President Bush made an important
point: that it is purely not practical to round up 12 million people in our country and deport them,"

But Taylor said not forcing unauthorized immigrants to leave before being granted legal status rewards people for living in the country against the law.

"If your first act in coming to this country was breaking this law, you need to go back home and think about it again and come back in the right way," he said.

But Edwards say there are ways illegal immigrants should be able to eventually earn a place in this country, through learning English, paying back taxes and avoiding arrests for multiple misdemeanors or any felonies.

"Military service to the country would be a very positive way to allow people to earn their citizenship," he said.

But Taylor views such plans as further incentives to unauthorized immigrants who receive government-subsidized social services like public schools and health care.

"You're taking good, hardworking Americans and pushing them out of their place in line and putting an illegal alien ahead of them," he said.

But the areas where the candidates agree are numerous.

Both want strict enforcement of all existing and future immigration laws.
They also both call for an adequate employer status-verification system and stricter punishment for businesses that flaunt existing prohibitions on hiring illegal workers.

They say the southern border with Mexico needs thousands of additional, well-trained border patrol agents; high-technology surveillance equipment; physical barriers, including walls and fences; and additional prisons to house the people who are captured.

Edwards said he serves on the right panel to address the problems, as a member of a House appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

He is in the process of steering $32 million to upgrade a fleet of P-3 surveillance planes with better technology at Waco's largest private employer, L-3 Communications.

He said he voted to increase the number of border patrol agents by 7,400 over the past five years but was rebuffed by the House leadership.

Taylor says he has a unique perspective to bring to the congressional debate, referring to his work as the leader of a Marine platoon conducting drug prevention efforts for about a month in 1997.

"I've seen with my own eyes serving as a Marine on the U.S./Mexican border what most Americans know in their heart: We don't have secure borders,"
Taylor said.

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