Q: How do you see the immigration reform effort moving forward?
A: I appreciate that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working together to try to identify shared principles and build consensus on the issues involved in reforming America's immigration system. As Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I expect to play a role in trying to broker consensus with additional members of Congress. This month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on immigration reform. It's my strong view that any changes to immigration policy should go through what's known as regular order in the Senate, where the committee of jurisdiction holds hearings to dig into the details, puts together a proposal, considers amendments, and sends legislation to the full Senate. Then, there should be additional debate among all 100 senators, including consideration of amendments.
Q: What can we learn from reforms enacted in 1986?
A: As it is today, the question of how to handle people illegally in the United States is the challenging issue. During debate in the 1980s, I agreed with an independent commission's recommendations that a legalization program should not begin until enforcement measures had been instituted. The commission warned that "without more effective enforcement, legalization could serve as a stimulus to further illegal entry." Back then, I offered an amendment that prevented permanent residency from being granted until the United States had a worker eligibility system. My amendment was not approved. There was powerful opposition to employer sanctions and the legalization cut-off date was extended so more people could benefit from the amnesty. But for the first time, in 1986, we made it unlawful to hire someone here illegally. Unfortunately, over the years, the law was not enforced. Ultimately, the law tilted toward legalize now, enforce later. Instead of solving the problem once and for all, as some promised it would do, today, there are more than 11 million undocumented people in the United States. Events proved that condoning illegal activity brought more of it, not less. Knowing what we do now, any immigration reform bill must include tough and effective enforcement measures and adequately enhance legal immigration opportunities. The lessons we learned with the 1986 law need to be applied.
Q: Looking ahead, what are your goals for reform?
A: What President Ronald Reagan said when major legislation was enacted in 1986 remains relevant today: "Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship." And, to be successful with immigration policy this time around, we first need enforcement of the laws already on the books. That means not turning a blind eye to sanctuary cities and stronger action against countries that refuse or delay in taking back their citizens. We need the Administration to perform its constitutional duty of faithfully executing the laws and securing the border. We also need E-Verify to be used by all businesses in America to make certain to the greatest extent possible that they have a legal workforce. I've introduced legislation this month to require every employer to participate in this worker eligibility verification program. In addition, we need reform of legal immigration policies so that both high- and low-skilled workers have an avenue to enter and live in the United States. We are a nation defined and strengthened by both immigrants and the rule of law. Immigration reform must honor both of these traditions in order to be successful.