Thirty years ago I listened carefully as President Ronald Reagan told America’s citizens that he was preparing to sign the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The Act required that employers attest to their employees’ immigration status, made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants knowingly, and legalized certain seasonal agricultural workers. It also allowed approximately 4 million illegal immigrants, who had resided in America prior to 1982 and did not have a criminal record, to apply for legal status. Applicants were required to pay a fine, pay any back taxes due, and possess basic knowledge of English, US government and US history. We were told that we would never face the problem of illegal immigration again………
Our Federal Government has failed us, and today there are 11 million illegal immigrants in America. Many have become a part of the fabric of our society. Some have had children here, who by law are American citizens. Some have married legal citizens. What is the right policy for these illegal immigrants, and for America’s citizens?
Comprehensive immigration reform will require the synchronous application of the following reforms:
Our borders must be made secure. The goal of border security should be to prevent illegal entry into the United States, but not to impede the legal flow of people and goods across our borders. Internal security must be enhanced, to detain and deport those who are not legally here. It is unacceptable for local and state police departments to fail to cooperate with our federal efforts, to ensure that all people who are in America have a legal status to be in our country.
We must introduce a reliable and easy to use e-verify system for our employers, to allow them to determine if their job applicants are legally in our country.
We should once again do what President Ronald Reagan did in 1986--give legal status to those 11 million people who are currently here illegally, but who have contributed in a positive way, and have not broken any other laws. Those who are allowed to apply for legal status must pay a fine, pay any back taxes owed, have basic knowledge of our language and customs, and be brought out of the shadows of our communities.
Legal immigration must be carefully balanced with American workforce needs. It is unacceptable to use work visas and immigration programs to bring more people to the US to displace existing workers or to depress the wages of working people. Currently, 1 million foreign individuals are admitted as legal permanent residents each year, and thousands more are given temporary work visas. If America’s economy is booming, and if we are truly at full employment with a need for more workers, Americans will welcome increased legal immigration and work visa programs. But in today’s America where the labor participation rate of Americans of working age is approximately 6 out of 10 or 60%, new immigrants will naturally compete for precious jobs with those who are already here legally. We must intensity efforts to educate and train Americans and current legal citizens to do the jobs of our current and future economy, rather than importing more foreign workers to do these jobs.
I ask our Federal leaders to have the courage to enact such just Comprehensive Immigration Reform.