What’s An Immigration Reform Bill Worthy of Support?

There are 100 senators who believe the immigration system needs to be fixed.  I can guarantee that there are also 100 different ways to fix it.  And, nobody has the perfect solution.  But, I bring an experience to the table that very few others have.

My deep-rooted concerns with this bill stem from my strong belief that we made a mistake in 1986.  We allowed legalization before we secured the border.  We allowed legalization and ignored the laws on the books.  Another major shortcoming was that we allowed legalization without creating adequate avenues for people to enter, live, and work in this country legally.  These were crucial flaws that have led us to the debate we’re having today.  And, I’m not willing to pass that mistake on to a future Congress.

So, what will it take for somebody like me, a Senator who voted for amnesty in 1986 and wasn’t a part of the Group of Eight, or the Group of Ten, to vote for immigration reform in 2013?  Well, this is what I need to see in an immigration reform bill in order to support it and send to the President.  

•    Legalization after border security

•    Meaningful interior enforcement, including allowing ICE to do its job and work with state and local people

•    Strengthening, not weakening current law with regard to criminals

•    Protecting American workers while enhancing legal avenues

1.  Legalization after border security

Most Americans contend that a legalization program is a compassionate way to help those who are unlawfully in the country.  However, those compassionate people who support such a program of legalization do so only on the premise that the government will secure the border and stop the flow of illegal migration.  

We are a nation based on the rule of law.  We have the right to protect our sovereignty and a duty to protect our homeland.  Any border security measures we pass must be real and immediate.  We can’t wait 10 years to put more agents on the border or to implement a system to track foreign nationals.  We have to prove to the American people that illegal entries are under complete control and that visa overstays are being punished.  

Unfortunately, too many people have been led to believe that the bill before us will force the Secretary of Homeland Security to secure the border.   It doesn’t.  

A fundamental component of any legislation is border security first and foremost; not legalization now, and enforcement later, if ever.

There has to be pressure put on the executive branch to get the job done.  We must tie legalization to results. Only then will advocates and a future administration truly try to secure the border.

2. Meaningful interior enforcement, including allowing ICE to do its job and work with state and locals

Enforcement of the immigration laws has been lax and increasingly selective in the last few years.  As a result, States have been forced to deal with the criminal activity that surrounds the flow of people here illegally.

They have stepped up efforts to control the effects of illegal immigration in their states.  The states should be able to protect their people and stem the lawlessness within their borders.  Yet, time and again, this administration has denied states the opportunity and tried to stop them from enforcing the immigration laws.  

Federal immigration enforcement officers have also been handicapped from doing their job.  The bill would practically render these officers useless, since they are required to verify a person’s eligibility for legalization before apprehending and detaining them.  They need to be provided the resources to fulfill their mission, and not be told by Washington to sit idly by.  

The unfortunate reality is that the bill does almost nothing to strengthen and enhance our interior enforcement efforts.  The bill does nothing to encourage federal, state and local law enforcement efforts to apprehend and detain individuals who pose a risk to our communities.  The federal government will continue to look the other way as millions of new people enter the country illegally.  Meanwhile, the bill gives the states no new authority to act when the federal government refuses.  

I’ll be the first to say that border security is a must.  But, people who enter illegally and overstay their visas are residing in the interior of our country.  This cannot be ignored.  

3. Strengthening, not weakening current law with regard to criminals

One of the major reasons why immigration is a subject of significant public interest is the failure of the federal government to enforce existing law.  Eleven million people have unlawfully entered the country or overstayed their visas because the federal government did not deter them or take action to remove them.  S. 744 significantly weakens current criminal laws and will hinder the ability of law enforcement to protect Americans from criminal undocumented aliens.  

The bill weakens current law regarding passport fraud, only charging those who make and distribute illegal passports three or more times.  It allows a person to knowingly purchase materials for making illegal passports, but only charge the person with a crime if ten or more passports are made.

It also weakens current law for those who illegally enter the country, changing existing law by removing the crime of illegally attempting to enter the United States, essentially incentivizing foreign citizens to attempt to illegally enter the country as many times as they want.  Further, once they successfully enter the U.S. illegally, the aliens would only be subject to criminal punishment if they are removed from the country 3 or more times.  

Taken together, the bill weakens current law and will make it easier for undocumented aliens to enter the country illegally by not criminalizing their attempts to enter, nor their actual illegal entry, unless they have been previously removed 3 or more times.  This is a drastic change that will encourage future illegal entries.    

Given the serious nature of criminal street gangs, we need to pass an immigration bill that prevents entry into the country if one is a gang member.  More importantly, we need to ensure that gang members are not being rewarded with legal status.  Regrettably, the bill is weak on foreign national criminal street gang members in several regards.  

In addition to weakening current law, the bill does very little to deter criminal behavior in the future.  The bill ignores sanctuary cities, allowing criminals to seek safe harbor in jurisdictions where they have policies aimed to protect people in the country illegally.  

It increases the thresholds required for actions to constitute a crime.  It punishes persons only if they have already been convicted of three or more misdemeanors on different days.  And, it only punishes undocumented aliens who are removed from the country three or more times.

I‘m committed to making sure that any bill that is sent to the President makes a more serious effort to penalize those who attempt to enter or re-enter the United States.  It needs to be tough on lawbreakers and send a signal that fraud and abuse, including identity theft, will not be tolerated.  It needs to ensure that gang members are not granted legalization, but rather, made deportable and inadmissible.  We need to protect victims of crime, and ensure that child abusers and domestic violence perpetrators do not receive benefits under the immigration law.  

Finally, we need to ensure that dangerous undocumented criminals are not released in our communities but are detained until they are properly returned to their home country.  

4. Protecting American workers while enhancing legal avenues

While I support allowing businesses to bring in foreign workers, they should only do so when qualified Americans are not available.  There have been too many stories about U.S. workers who have had to train their replacements who come in through the H-1B visa program.   Foreign nationals are being hired, but then working in locations not specified on their application.  Other work visa programs are not free of controversy.  

I agree with the creation of a temporary worker program, such as the W visa program created in S. 744.  I have long argued that we must enhance and expand opportunities for people who wish to work legally in the country.  Yet, as we do that, we cannot forget the American worker.

We need to fight for them and ensure they are not disadvantaged, displaced, and underpaid because of our immigration laws.  

S.744 makes a move in the right direction by increasing worker protections for Americans and providing more authority to the Executive Branch to investigate fraud in the H-1B visa program.  Unfortunately, the bill is slanted to ensure that only certain employers undergo more scrutiny.  All employers who bring in visa holders should be held to the same standard.  All employers, not just some, should be required to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers.  

All employers, not just some, should be required to attest that they did not or will not displace a U.S. worker within 180 days of applying for an H-1B worker.  All employers, not just some, should be required to offer the job to a U.S. worker who is equally or better qualified.  

Our employment-based immigration programs, including the H-1B program, have served and could again serve a valuable purpose if used properly.  However, they’re being misused and abused.  They’re failing the American worker and not fulfilling the original purpose that Congress intended when it created them.  Reforms are needed to put integrity back into the programs and to ensure that American workers and students are given every chance to fill vacant jobs in this country.  

Again, how I vote on a final bill coming out of a conference with the House is undecided.  I want to be able to support something that will make Americans proud, and will stand the test of time so that future generations can benefit.  But I need to see at least these four key changes before I can cast a vote in support.

I’ve said to Iowans and to my colleagues that the bill before the Senate is pre-cooked.  But, I have faith that a better bill is achievable – a bill that can gain more votes, including mine.