Wednesday, June 12, 2013
- by Rep. Scott DesJarlias
Lately, immigration has been a main focus in Washington, D.C. A group of Republican and Democratic Senators, known as the Gang of 8, have taken it upon themselves to develop a comprehensive immigration package to address the eleven million illegal immigrants living in our country. Unfortunately, I cannot support their proposal in its current form and would vote against it if it were to make its way to the House.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Gang of 8 and one of the chief architects of the Senate immigration bill, recently told a Spanish news station that "First comes the legalization. Then comes the measures to secure the border." I have a tremendous amount of respect for Senator Rubio, but could not disagree with him more on this issue. Granting amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants in exchange for the promise of future border security is a terribly misguided approach.
The legislation being considered in the Senate contains a series of “border triggers” that gives authority to the Department of Homeland Security to determine when and how the border is deemed to be secured. In exchange, we would begin the process of legalizing a majority of these 11 million illegal immigrants. But these triggers lack clear and meaningful metrics to ensure adequate enforcement. Rather, we would essentially trust DHS to set up and meet their own standards. With the DHS’s track record on border security, how can we be confident in the agency’s ability to accomplish something it has been unable to achieve in the past? I agree with Senator John Cornyn of Texas when he stated these measures are really just “talking points disguised as policy.”
To simply grant amnesty without securing the border is truly putting the cart before the horse. We tried that in 1986 and it did not work. Those efforts, however well intentioned, created a moral hazard that precipitated the illegal immigration problem we find ourselves in today. Think about it. We would once again be sending the message that if a person can just cross the border and hide out long enough, eventually he or she will be granted full citizenship.
Most can agree that our immigration system is outdated and broken and that we should pursue reasonable but fair reforms. But the Senate plan would only exacerbate the problems we currently face with illegal immigration.
The United States has always been a haven for individuals who seek to use their skills and determination to build a better life for themselves and their families. As a result, our nation is home to the world’s most talented workforce. We are a diverse group of innovators, entrepreneurs and risk takers and our accomplishments have not only brought forth prosperity here at home, but have helped to shape the world that we live in today.
But while we have always been a country that welcomes immigrants with open arms, we have 11 million people in this country that broke the law by coming here illegally. Many of them find ways to collect food stamps, receive free health care and send their children to public schools without paying taxes. There are those that come here for criminal purposes, like selling drugs, and even others here seeking to do harm to America.
Of course many come to the United States simply looking for job opportunities. I understand these individuals want to work, pay their fair share and live out the American dream, but they have still broken the law. To simply grant them amnesty would not only show that we condone a disregard for the rule of law, but it would be unfair to the millions of folks who are trying to gain citizenship the right way.
Even if there is an argument to be made for providing a pathway to citizenship for those that can meet certain criteria like paying back taxes, holding a steady job, and not engaging in criminal activity, that cannot happen until one thing certain: Our borders are absolutely secure.
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Of all the letters that Rep. DesJarlais has submitted to the Chattanoogan, his latest letter on immigration is perhaps the most muddled.
Issue #1 - 11 million illegal immigrants. Of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, some significant portion of them did indeed cross the border illegally. Many more were admitted to this country under student or visitor visas (during both Republican and Democratic administrations) and our government lost track of them. Another group of “illegals” were brought to this country as children and have been raised in the United States and gone to our schools without willfully breaking any law. The main reason that this has occurred regardless of whether a Republican or a Democrat sits in the Oval Office is that it is good for business and the economy.
Of the first two groups, I am still undecided whether there should be any path to citizenship. On the other hand, since our various governments have allowed this to happen, I am of the opinion that if they have not committed any crimes and they are gainfully employed, then they should be able to enjoy some form of legal residency. The immigrants that I have met are hard working and industrious for the most part and know that any criminal activity would be the fastest way to get deported.
Of those immigrants that were brought to this country by their families and have attended our schools, I support the Dream Act and say that they should be allowed to become citizens.
Issue #2 - 11 million illegal immigrants that do not pay taxes. If Rep. DesJarlais means income taxes as this is what Republican dogma generally states, then he is probably right. However, most Republicans seem to conveniently forget that immigrants and the working poor still pay a sizeable portion of their meager incomes in the form of taxes. Is anybody out there failing to pay sales taxes? How about gasoline taxes? Vehicle registration taxes? I recently got an email from my right wing brother-in-law that claimed that Americans are liable for something on the order of 268 different taxes. The only one of those that working poor typically avoid is the income tax. Nevertheless, because of all these taxes, the working poor actually pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than most of the wealthiest Americans.
Of course the other side of this issue is that the money that immigrants earn has to come from somewhere. If we are going to beat our chest about the poor and immigrants not paying income taxes, then where is the outrage over businessmen that pay them in cash to avoid taxes, labor laws and OSHA regulations? I seriously doubt that these employers are paying their Social Security or Medicare taxes or why would they be paying cash? If people that are currently here illegally have to disclose who they have been working for in the past to achieve legal residency status, is the Government then going to go after the employers have knowingly avoid paying billions of dollars into the Social Security and Medicare systems?
Issue #3 - We must secure the border. First, as observed earlier, many of our illegal immigrants actually entered the country legally on student or visitor visas, so building a new Iron Curtain along our borders will not solve the issue by itself. Second, do we really want to build an Iron Curtain along our borders? When I deployed to Arizona as part of Operation Jump Start this was a question we frequently debated. Understand this, the U.S. Army could secure the border. With enough troops, walls, machine guns, land mines and barb wire, we could indeed secure the border. Is that the type of country we want to become?
So we must understand that if we want a greater than 90 percent apprehension rate along the border, then that is pretty much what it is going to take. Does the United States want to become the new Iron Curtain country? I think not.
Securing our border needs to be a multiple layer approach. First, the border needs to be monitored and patrolled in a rational way. Second, we need to know who is actually here in our country today. This means we need to establish a way for those living here peacefully to achieve legal residency (not necessarily citizenship). Third we need to crack down on unscrupulous businessmen by implementing significant legal penalties on those that game the system and fail to verify employees and / or pay taxes. Finally, once we have identified who is here through a legalization process and eliminated employment opportunities for illegals, law enforcement needs to track and apprehend anyone that is still here illegally.
So the claim by Rep. DesJarlais that immigration reform is putting the cart before the horse is patently false. Given the current state of affairs, left to us by both prior Republican and Democratic administrations, we must do multiple things at the same time to fix this mess. Let’s continue to improve border security. Let’s determine who is actually here in the country with us and provide some form of residency to honest, industrious contributors. Let’s make sure that the economic interests and tax offenders that have created this situation no longer have an incentive to recruit and hire undocumented workers. That is how we fix the problem and I applaud those in Congress that are working together to achieve this fix. My only hope is that Rep. DesJarlais and the other local Republican Congressman that we never hear from give up their partisan ways become part of the solution.
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Perhaps using the metaphor " horse before the cart" or any equine metaphor is in the poorest of taste considering. Rep. DesJarlais takes money from The Big Licker, abusers of horses.