Jun 14 2006

Lindsey Graham on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Many South Carolinians have contacted the office about immigration reform. Here is some expanded information on the subject and thoughts on the Senate legislation from Senator Graham.

I agree with President Bush, our current immigration laws are complex and unworkable. The physical security along our border is porous and in some areas, nearly non-existent. Combine these factors with spotty or lax enforcement of employment laws, and we have created the immigration situation we find ourselves in today. South Carolinians are rightly frustrated with our immigration system. They know the system is broken and we all pay the price. This is a concern I share. It is also why Congress and President Bush should continue to work together to bring some order to the chaos that exists right now. Here is a brief rundown of my views on immigration reform and how the Senate began to address these issues. I hope in the coming months the House of Representatives, Senate and President can come to some agreement on immigration reform. Each day we delay in securing our border, creating a workable employer verification system and creating a process to deal with the undocumented workers already in the United States only makes our immigration problems worse. Border Security The first issue to address in immigration reform must be border security. Over the last decade, the number of illegal border crossings has dramatically increased. Without better border security, any immigration reform is sure to fail. One reason I supported the Senate immigration reform bill is because it addresses the long-overdue and much-needed effort to regain control of our perimeters. Among the major provisions, it authorizes the hiring of an additional 14,000 Border Patrol agents over the next five years. It also calls for the construction of at least 370 miles of triple-layer fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers to be placed in high-traffic border crossing areas where people can literally walk into the United States. In more remote locations, it calls for the creation of a ‘virtual’ fence. This fence would use some of our most advanced technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remote surveillance camera systems, motion detectors, and other technological devices to enhance the effectiveness of our Border Patrol. It also ends the ‘Catch and Release’ program where illegal immigrants detained by the Border Patrol are released and ordered to report to court at a future date. Needless to say, very few complied with the order, returned to court, and faced deportation. Now, because the Senate bill authorizes the construction of 20 new detention facilities capable of housing 20,000 detainees, we will be able to detain, house, and eventually deport them back to their home country when they are apprehended. While I support strengthening our border, I also realize that better border security alone will not adequately address our nation’s immigration problems. Almost half of the illegal immigrants in the United States today have overstayed their legally issued visas, and never crossed the border illegally. These illegal immigrants came to the United States as tourists, students or workers and never left the country. We must also remember that many rely on being able to legally cross our borders to continue in their businesses and day to day lives. Not all southern border crossings are illegal or pose a threat to the security of the United States. In fact, there are 350 million legal crossings between the United States and Mexico each year in the exchange of good and services. Each day nearly 1 million people legally cross at one of the entry points on the United States-Mexico border. Employee Verification and Employer Enforcement While the first issue to address in immigration reform must be border security, this alone provides a false sense of security and must be coupled with a workable employee verification system. Immigration is about jobs. We need to control who gets jobs, and how they get them. Creating an effective worker verification system that lets employers know whether a job applicant can legally work in the United States is a key element for successful immigration reform. The rampant fraud associated with the use of Social Security numbers and drivers licenses has put employers in a no-win situation for determining whether a person can legally work in the United States. If an employer questions the applicant’s documents too closely, they can face charges of discrimination. If they are too lax, they can be cited for not checking closely enough and hiring an illegal worker. In one case, an American company was under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for committing both offenses at the same time. This is why the Senate’s plan to institute a tamper-proof biometric worker verification card is so important. Under the plan, guest workers would be issued the card which contains biometric identifiers, such as digital fingerprints. This would enable employers to differentiate between legal and illegal workers before hiring them. After reforming the system and giving employers ample opportunity to comply with the new system, we must exercise the will to punish those who intentionally break the law. The Senate bill authorizes the hiring of 5,000 new interior enforcement investigators over the next 5 years to uphold our employment laws. We have been too lax in the enforcement of our well-intentioned but inadequate and confusing employment laws. As a result, the illegal workforce has become firmly entrenched in some of our state’s largest and most important industries such as agriculture, construction and tourism. Employers in many industries, including those crucial to South Carolina’s economy, need workers and want to hire them legally. We must provide the tools they need to not only comply with the law, but also to stay in business. Creating a workable employee verification system will also free up the enforcement officers to go after the unscrupulous businesses who knowingly violate our employment laws. They should be forced to comply with the stricter standards and penalties contained in the Senate bill, or face the consequences and end up behind bars. Undocumented Workers We must come up with an honest and rational solution on how to treat the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in our country. Like President Bush, I don’t think we are capable of, nor have the national will to, deport 11 million people. Further, an immediate roundup and deportation of this workforce would have negative consequences for our economy, potentially sending it into a tailspin. This ‘solution’ is not practical and therefore is simply not an option. The Senate compromise brings illegal immigrants already in the United States more than two years out of the shadows and requires them to meet rigorous standards in order to remain in our country. In essence, they are placed on 11 years of probation. The terms are strict but fair. They include: • Undocumented workers must come out of the shadows and register with the government;
• Pay $3,200 in fines and penalties;
• Be proficient in the English language;
• Stay employed;
• Undergo 2 comprehensive background checks to ensure they do not have a criminal record or pose a danger to society;
• Pay all back taxes;
• Register with the military Selective Service;
• Attend American civics and government classes
Failure to meet any of these requirements would result in deportation. Not every undocumented worker who applies for the program will meet the requirements. Those who don’t measure up to the standards we put in place will face deportation. Those who do meet the terms above – over a 6 year period – would be allowed to go to the back of the line to apply for citizenship. On average, waiting to become an American citizen after the application is filed takes 5 years. This means that from the time an undocumented worker enters this program until they become a citizen, there would be at least an 11 year wait. If we have not cleared the current immigration backlog in that period, the immigrant won’t be able to apply for citizenship until we do. The program is not amnesty. Amnesty is what President Carter gave to Vietnam draft dodgers who fled to Canada. This approach represents a rational middle ground between those who want to grant an automatic path to citizenship for all undocumented workers and those who want every one to leave. In addition, it is important to note that the Senate passed immigration bill does not make illegal aliens eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Our immigration system has been in disarray for so long there are generations of families with legal and illegal members. Some families have parents here illegally and children that are American citizens. Some husbands are illegal while the wives are legal. More importantly, there are many members of our military, particularly young Hispanic Marines, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who are legal citizens by virtue of being born in America. They have chosen to fight and die for our country. Creating felons out of their parents, illegally in the country, is not the way to thank them for their service, and will not make America a better place. Conclusion Immigration is a complex issue. One aspect that has been particularly contentious among all Americans is constructing a fence to run the full length of the United States-Mexico border. Many South Carolinians support additional fencing and I agree with them. However, this idea is not universally accepted – even among border state legislators who would be most affected. The state of Texas shares a 1,200 mile border with Mexico and is the site of many legal and illegal border crossings. However, the Republican Senators from Texas split over the issue of creating a border fence. One Senator is open to the idea while the other views it as impractical. This split illustrates how difficult it can be to reach consensus on these issues even among legislators who normally agree. As Americans, we need to keep in mind the debate surrounding immigration is not a new one. As a nation of immigrants, we have had disagreements about how many immigrants we should absorb, their original nationality, and the impact they were having on the United States. Immigration is part of our history and among the founding principles of this nation. I strongly believe that working together we can address our immigration problems and allow our country to move toward a more prosperous future.