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Weekly Column 8-09-2010

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

An Update from Washington- Observations from the U.S.-Mexico Border

Last week, I traveled to El Paso, TX to receive a security briefing and tour of border patrol measures along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) office in the El Paso Border Sector took me to see various border control measures, including infrastructure, processing, technology, as well as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) center.

I chose to come to El Paso because it sits just across the border from the most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere -- Juarez, Mexico. The fact that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S. tells me they are doing something right and I wanted to see it first-hand. In many ways, the situation in the El Paso Sector encapsulates the challenges along the entire border.

The aspect of my trip that impressed me most was how well CBP in the El Paso Sector operates the border. Their comprehensive approach allows them to have full control of the ports of entry, the rural landscape, and the air. They use a combination of man power, border fencing, and technology which has proven effective at preventing violence from spilling over our borders. More importantly, their methods deter many illegal immigrants from even attempting to enter the country unlawfully.

In fact, the approach has been so effective that CBP arrests and apprehensions have dropped dramatically every year since 2006. Put simply, individuals looking to cross the border illegally have had to look elsewhere because the El Paso sector is more secure. What the federal government needs to do is provide CBP with more resources so their success can be replicated across the entire southern border.

True enforcement of our immigration laws entails more than just tightening security measures along the border, however. If we want to solve the immigration problem we must also turn off the job magnet that attracts immigrants to come here illegally. Too many businesses take advantage of our broken borders. They use illegal immigrants for cheap labor, which not only encourages more to come to the U.S.; it drives down wages for American citizens and makes jobs harder to find.

We need to get tough by increasing penalties on businesses if they hire illegal immigrants. Further, the federal government should help the businesses playing by the rules by expanding E-verify so they can be confident that they are hiring legal immigrants. Additionally, we should increase our coordination with state and local governments to maximize our enforcement capabilities.

When I served as Mayor of Montgomery, I pushed for and passed a tough law that would strip businesses of their licenses if they knowingly hired illegal immigrants. It was one of the first laws of its kind passed in the country. As is the case with the new Arizona immigration law, the measure we passed in Montgomery attempted to alleviate some of the burdens we felt from a problem long ignored in Washington.

Since coming to Congress, I co-sponsored the SAVE Act, which provides for expanded use of E-verify, as well as additional border patrol and technology. It is an enforcement-first approach to immigration reform that does not provide amnesty for those here illegally. The SAVE Act should be the starting point for any discussion on immigration reform.

When I returned from the border, I hosted a town hall meeting in Dothan to discuss my observations with constituents. Illegal immigration is a very big concern for many in the Second District, and rightly so. They expect the federal government to step up and do its duty to secure our border. It is, after all, an express function of our government.

At the town hall, some expressed concerns that my views on immigration reform dismiss immigrants' contributions to America. In response to those concerns, let me say that if an immigrant fills takes the appropriate steps to come here legally, I don't think there's a person in the Second District who would not support his or her efforts to achieve the American dream. We are, after all, a country of immigrants. However, we are also a country of laws, and anyone wishing to be a part of our society must do so through legal channels.

It is past time for federal action on immigration reform. I look forward to working with my colleagues when I return to Washington to give those on the front lines defending our border the resources they need to get the job done.

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