The Southwest border remains insecure. We have more than 11 million illegal immigrants in our nation and more coming every day. Neither of these facts is news. What is news is the growing bipartisan majority in Congress willing to do something about it.
The defining points of this debate are twofold: how to stop illegal immigration in the future and how to handle those 11 million folks who are already here. If we can agree on both, we can pass a bill in a divided Congress. To agree on both requires a secure border and a secure workplace.
The Obama administration would have you believe the border is secure. Anyone on the border knows that is absolute hogwash. The Border Patrol reports that 61 percent of an estimated 1 million people per year attempting to illegally cross the border succeed, meaning we aren’t stopping even half. Further, the current rate of illegal crossings is expected to swell dramatically as our economy improves, and we will see that apprehension rate crash back to pre-recession failure levels.
Based on the current president’s state of denial, and the past failures of both Democratic and Republican administrations to secure our border, future certification that our border is secure must include independent confirmation from our state and local governments.
The second plank of preventing future illegal immigration is to secure our workforce through making the current online E-Verify system mandatory for all employment, the same as filling out a W-2. My own congressional office is certified under the E-Verify program. It took us 33 minutes to register online and an average of less than five minutes each to approve employees.
With the border under control and the workplace secure, we can then deal with those already here through common-sense court proceedings that preserve our rule of law with compassion.
We should not treat every immigrant the same. There should be a separate program for young people brought illegally to this country at an early age and who have grown up as Americans. There should be a separate program for agricultural workers in hard-to-fill farm jobs, most of whom don’t seek long-term residency, just a temporary work permit for seasonal jobs. There should be a program for highly skilled immigrants sought by our high-tech and medical industries.
This brings us to political reality. Successful legislation must satisfy two opposing philosophies. One side would prefer to stand fast on the current law and simply beef up border security and workplace enforcement. The other would grant blanket amnesty and declare the border sufficiently secure even with hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens crossing every year.
But now many of these former adversaries are recognizing that there is a higher cost for not having a bill. Even at current reduced rates, more than half a million new illegal immigrants are pouring into our country every year. Well before the end of this decade, if we do nothing, we will have more than 20 million illegal immigrants in our country, at tremendous taxpayer expense for indigent health care, public education and other costs. And they will be living as a growing permanent legal underclass, to the detriment of our citizens and immigrants alike.
Now is the time to act. If we can agree to compromise, we can put the brakes on future illegal immigration, while showing compassion to those here now. If we can’t agree, the problem will just get bigger through lack of secure borders and a secure workplace. Yes, there is a price to pay for allowing these problems to grow for years, but that price will never be less than it is right now. We must secure our borders and end our illegal immigration nightmare, and a compromise bill this year is the best available political means to achieve that goal.
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and the Republican lead in the Bipartisan House Immigration Reform Working Group.