Flawed solution better than none

May 22, 2007|By Jon Kyl

In last year's elections, voters said one thing loud and clear: Do something about illegal immigration. Of course, there were a lot of different opinions about what should be done, but more inactivity was clearly not an option.

Separate House and Senate bills last year were considered unpalatable by the vast majority of Americans. One version did not adequately address our broken immigration system, and the other was too permissive in its automatic path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and even guest workers. So nothing changed.

Meanwhile, every day, thousands of illegal immigrants continue to pour across our border, workplace enforcement is a joke, and crime and violence are escalating.

Now the Democrats control Congress, and it's clear that a Democrat-only bill would be more liberal than the bill I unsuccessfully opposed last year. I was presented with a choice: Sit on the sidelines and complain about a bad bill or work hard to ensure that any bill that passed is influenced as much as possible by my principles.

For weeks, senators and administration officials have worked to forge a bill that secures our border, creates workable and effective interior and workplace enforcement, realistically deals with the people here illegally, and designs a truly temporary worker program that responds to the nation's fluctuating labor needs.

In these meetings, Republicans insisted on achieving certain milestones in interior and border security (such as hiring 18,000 Border Patrol agents and constructing 370 miles of fencing) before allowing any visas for illegal immigrants.

Republicans also insisted on an effective and enforceable electronic employment verification system that would prevent employers from hiring illegal workers and provide stiff penalties for those who violate the law. This verification system also must be fully operational before triggering other features of the bill. Within one year, all illegal immigrants would have to begin a process to gain legal status. Those who don't would be deported when caught. Those who cannot meet the conditions of their probationary period also would be required to return home.

Republicans also successfully demanded that the temporary worker program require workers to return home after two years and that the program not serve as a path to citizenship. Opponents of amnesty have insisted that Congress end the opportunities for "chain migration" - bringing in relatives who ultimately become U.S. citizens - and that is done in this bill. In addition, future green cards would be given on the basis of merit, favoring those with key job skills, education and English-language proficiency.

The bottom line for Democrats was a citizenship opportunity for most illegal immigrations, but we were able to deny an automatic path to citizenship. Under the bill, all permanent resident applicants must apply from the back of the line and from their home country, pay higher fines than in last year's bill, pass a criminal background check and show a nearly perfect work history, English proficiency and familiarity with American civics. Those with the best records would have the highest priority for a green card, but none could earn citizenship in less than 13 years.

Obviously, there is much more to the bill. There are many provisions I don't like, and equally as many that some Democratic senators don't like. A number of special-interest lobby groups are screaming for changes. If the consensus we reach is not accurately reflected in the final legislative language, or is seriously undercut by amendments in the Senate or House, it will lose support, including mine.

What we have shown is it that a bipartisan consensus is possible. The American people will have to determine whether it is what they want, but for me, failing to try is not a solution.

Jon Kyl is a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona. This article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic.

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