We are a nation of immigrants, but today our immigration system is broken. For too long the federal government has not done enough to secure our borders or enforce immigration laws already on the books. The border situation is even more serious now because it's not just undocumented workers trying to enter the country looking for work but rather organizations seeking to exploit our porous borders to smuggle weapons and drugs into the U.S. In addition, we see the extreme violence taking place just south of us as Mexican drug cartels battle with the Mexican government and the occasional spillover into the U.S. So, it is imperative that we take serious measures to solve the border problem, not just talk about it.
Here’s what needs to get done. First we must gain operational control of the border. If we do not control our borders, we will not control our future. This is especially true since September 11th. In a very real sense, border security is homeland security. Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act, which I authored, but only 36 miles of double-layer fencing and 299 miles of vehicle barriers have been built along the southwest border. This is not acceptable. I have cosponsored legislation (H.R. 1417) to implement a 5-year strategy to gain operational control of our borders, and called for National Guard troops along the Southwest border.
I have also advocated for the designation of certain Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), having cosponsored legislation and urged then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to support this designation. The violence of these cartels has spilled across our borders, endangering the lives of U.S. citizens. By placing the drug cartels on the FTO list, our law enforcement officers would have additional authorities to limit the cartels’ financial, property, and travel operations.
More needs to be done, however. Illegal immigration is no longer an issue that can be solved just at the border. The federal government must (a) find ways to better meet employer needs by streamlining and expanding U.S. visa programs; (b) require employer use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system (also known as e-verify); and (c) implement biometric entry-exit visa tracking for those who overstay their visas. I have cosponsored E-Verify legislation (H.R. 1772), and supported the STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429) to provide green cards to graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Under our current system, we educate scientists and engineers only to send them home to work for our competitors abroad. We should modernize our system to keep that knowledge and talent here at home.
As the grandchild of immigrants I strongly believe that immigration is the lifeblood of our nation. Immigrants bring the energy, vitality and initiative which make America such a unique and prosperous nation. Overhauling our broken immigration system by establishing strong border security and brining immigrants into the American mainstream should be a top priority of this Congress, and I am hopeful that bipartisan negotiations will yield fair and effective laws.