May 27 2007

Amnesty not the answer

Birmingham News

Op-Ed: By RICHARD SHELBY

New legislative issues strike a chord in the American public like immigration reform. The exploding problem of immigration has troubled many Alabamians, and I share their concerns.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives 21 years ago, I was part of the debate on another mammoth immigration bill, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill. Under that legislation, the United States granted amnesty to 2.7 million individuals who entered our country illegally. The bill granted legal status to those already here and allowed them to make a fresh start. Does this sound familiar? It should. Proponents of the legislation before the Senate last week point to the same tired arguments.

When the Simpson-Mazzoli bill passed, I voted against it. I opposed amnesty then, and I oppose it now. We have an immigration problem today not because we deferred action, but because we passed an amnesty bill. Simpson-Mazzoli did not stem the flow of illegal immigration as its supporters promised. It accelerated it. This is evidenced by the fact that today, 21 years later, we are debating granting amnesty to an estimated 12 million people.

The current Senate bill is simply Simpson-Mazzoli two decades later. If this bill passes, will we grant amnesty to 20 million more people in 2028?

Supporters of the current Senate bill contend that this legislation is not amnesty. Illegal immigrants would need to pay a small fine, stay employed, pass English language tests and, eventually, leave the country to apply for permanent legal status. This is all accurate. However, it is also true that an illegal immigrant who came to this country before 2007 would be able to achieve legal status in as little as 180 days. Under the new visa program, an individual could legally remain in the U.S. for eight years. The framers of this legislation built a path to permanent legal status right into the legislation.

Let's be honest: This bill rewards those who broke our laws to enter the United States. This is amnesty. It did not work 21 years ago, and it will not work today.

I want to address our immigration problem, but we need to learn from our mistakes. Granting amnesty to millions who broke the law is not the answer. Rather than rewarding those who cheat the system, we need to eliminate the source of the problem first.

As such, it is critical that we close and secure our borders. In these dangerous times, leaving our borders unsecured is wildly irresponsible. The number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders unchecked each year is proof that our current system is broken and must be fixed. Hundreds of miles of additional fencing, vehicle barriers, additional border agents, and technologically patrolled areas will enhance our ability to patrol these areas. A secure border is the first step towards a secure country.

Further, our law enforcement must have the resources necessary to implement our current laws. We need adequate funding and sufficient manpower on our porous border. We need to end the practice of "catch and release." Our detention facilities must have the capacity to handle the vast number of illegal immigrants crossing the border. We must enhance our worker identification system and enforce the employer sanction laws. While the current legislation includes many of these provisions, it also includes amnesty. For me, amnesty is a deal breaker.

Our country is a nation of immigrants. It is also a nation of laws. Those two statements are not mutually exclusive. Immigrants built this country and sustain its growth. I do not fault people for wanting to come to this great nation. Yet, at the same time, it is our laws that ensure our nation's survival. As the immigration debate continues, I strive to make certain that we maintain and enforce our laws. By doing so, we will ensure the continuation of the great American tradition of immigration.