For Immigration, Conference with the Senate Is Not an Option
With his signature legislative accomplishment crumbling around him amid a growing pile of negative headlines, President Obama is thankfully seeing another legislative priority slip away: his wrong-headed version of comprehensive immigration reform.
Before the spectacular Obamacare implosion, the president had hoped to use perceived political momentum from October’s government shutdown to pivot straight into passage of an immigration plan with amnesty for untold millions of illegal immigrants as the central feature. When it comes to national security and jobs for legal residents of this country, I am encouraged that the House of Representatives appears ready to stand firm against the Senate-passed “Gang of Eight” bill that promises decades of porous borders and bleak employment numbers.
As the legislative process moves forward, those of us who have supported a “secure the borders first” approach feared that the Senate bill would be rammed through Congress by way of a “conference committee” between House and Senate leaders. In my view, the Senate bill represents amnesty first and security second—if at all. Were the House to pass wide-ranging immigration legislation, it would be very possible that any meaningful enforcement measures would be stripped out during a conference committee. I have expressed these concerns to Speaker John Boehner and I am pleased that he has publicly stated that he will specifically avoid a conference.
As mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, I witnessed firsthand the impact illegal immigration can have on a community and its residents. While our population increased by 50 percent, our tax base remained the same. To reverse this trend, we passed an ordinance that said that if an employer or landlord knowingly hired or rented to an illegal immigrant, their licenses to do business would be suspended. Naturally, I was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, and that case is still active pending a possible appeal. As a result, I strongly support a mandatory E-Verify system to be used by employers to discern the legality of prospective workers.
A true border security program would include fencing but also employ technology such as manned and unmanned aircraft in conjunction with cameras and sensors. A greater human presence is also preferable. I do support using a physical barrier where plausible but not as the only means of enforcement.
We know that nearly 50 percent of the illegal immigrants currently here did not cross what we consider a traditional border. They arrived on a visa, allowed the visa to expire, and simply disappeared into the interior of the country. That’s why I have proposed the “Visa Overstay Enforcement Act of 2013” (H.R. 2631), which applies to those who do not make a good faith effort to leave the United States by the expiration dates of their visas. Upon a first offense, the bill creates a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and one year in jail. The illegal immigrant may not be legally admitted to the U.S. for five years from the date of conviction and may not apply for a visa for ten years from the date of conviction. A second offense also would be a felony, punishable by fine of $15,000 and up to five years in jail. The illegal immigrant would be banned from entering the United States for life.
In addition, the Act requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit a plan to Congress detailing a biometric exit program involving the taking of fingerprints of those leaving the country at all land, sea, and air ports. Knowing who has left the country will help us identify who has overstayed a visa. If we fix our broken visa system, we can take care of nearly half of our illegal immigration concerns.
A second bill, “The 1986 Amnesty Transparency Act” (H.R. 2630), aims to learn lessons from our failed amnesty experiment in 1986. It requires a comprehensive report on the implementation of the 1986 amnesty deal that includes information such as the effect on the employment and wages of legal workers, number of individuals denied employment, how visa overstays were addressed, and the cost to social programs. We know that one of the bombers in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center was granted amnesty under the 1986 program as an agricultural worker. He was in reality a cab driver, and we now know that the only thing he planted was a bomb.
A broken immigration system is also a threat to our economic security. Amnesty, by any name, will result in millions of illegal immigrants flooding our job markets and reducing wages and employment opportunities for those hard-working immigrants and lower-income workers who have followed our laws. Finally, the costs to social programs over the lifetimes of those to be granted amnesty represents a drain on our taxpayers of about $6.3 trillion, according to the Heritage Foundation. Any one of these reasons alone should be enough to avoid a conference committee with a Senate bill that expressly touts amnesty.
We have immigration laws in this country for two main reasons: to protect national security and to protect American jobs. The immigration bill passed by the Senate violates both of those principles, and we must stay far away from it.
Rep. Lou Barletta (R) represents Pennsylvania’s 11th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.