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Q & A: Immigration
July 11, 2018

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Q: What needs to be done to fix our nation's immigration policies?

A: By all accounts, the current immigration system is broken. The last major overhaul was adopted 32 years ago in 1986. Unfortunately, the Immigration Reform and Control Act did not live up to its promises.

In exchange for amnesty, the law was hailed as a victory for border security and the solution to illegal immigration. For the first time in our nation's history, Congress made it a federal crime to employ undocumented workers.

At the time, everyone Democrats and Republicans believed Congress finally had solved illegal immigration by cutting off the "jobs magnet."

However, much of the bill was never enforced. And three decades later, it is clear Congress must do more to protect American workers and stop illegal immigration.

The 1986 amnesty law encouraged even more illegal immigration, worsening employment document fraud and identity theft. Employers have scant ability to determine the validity of employment documents.

If an employer suspects a document is stolen or spoofed and refuses to hire someone, that employer faces the prospect of lengthy and expensive discrimination lawsuits.

Because of these factors, the demand for unlawful employment remains. The molehill has grown into a mountain. Since passage of the 1986 amnesty law, the estimated population of undocumented immigrants has swelled up to 15 million people.

Securing the border, curbing illegal immigration and upholding the integrity of foreign work, student and travel visas have eluded each administration since President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law. A surge of migrants crossing the border illegally in the last decade resulted in the Obama administration implementing a "catch and release" policy that essentially served as a green light for even more illegal crossings, including an influx of unaccompanied minors.

However, a recent "zero tolerance" policy initiated by the Trump administration resulted in an untenable situation that separated children from their parents.

A recent court injunction addressing family separation at border crossings opens another can of worms that may exacerbate the tragic situation by which human smugglers kidnap and exploit migrant children to enter the United States and avoid detention. The last thing we need are more loopholes that undermine border security and put innocent children in harm's way.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has legislative and oversight jurisdiction of federal immigration policies, I support meaningful, lasting immigration reform that will not repeat the same mistakes of the past.

We must secure the border, close loopholes that hurt American workers, end the diversity visa lottery program and stop chain migration. We also must address the population of people living in limbo under the cloud of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

During the Senate immigration debate in February, I introduced an amendment that would have provided an earned path to citizenship for 1.8 million individuals who were brought here through no fault of their own. My amendment also provided $25 billion for border security to beef up infrastructure and personnel. It also eliminated the fraud-ridden diversity visa lottery program. This amendment was fully supported by the president and was the only Senate plan that had a chance of passing the House of Representatives and becoming law. Unfortunately, it was rejected and now Congress must consider new ways to fix our immigration system.

As we celebrated our nation's independence, we honor America's legacy as a nation of immigrants and heritage as a beacon of opportunity. For 242 years, we have handed down the blessings of freedom, liberty and prosperity from one generation to the next. As a nation built by immigrants, we must uphold the visionary principles championed by our founders. Our nation's sovereignty, system of self-government and free enterprise must remain anchored by the rule of law and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Q: How would your proposal known as E-Verify protect U.S. workers?

A: The 1986 immigration law did not shut off the spigot for illegal immigration. Instead, it created perverse incentives for employment document fraud and identify theft. Flawed enforcement and failed amnesty policies fostered a jobs magnet that fueled more illegal immigration enabled by fake employment documents. However, a proven, cost-effective tool that would help solve this problem does exist.

It's called E-Verify. It is a workforce verification system administered by the federal government. It's voluntary and free-of-charge to employers to access instant checks to determine a job applicant's employment eligibility. The program has proven effective in states with mandatory E-Verify laws.

Implementing workforce verification systems make common sense. It deters illegal immigration and helps employers who want to make sure they hire a legal workforce. E-Verify is supported by the vast majority of voters and many businesses, particularly those that already follow the law and seek to employ a legal workforce, and want to see it implemented.

One-third of employers voluntarily use the E-Verify program and 1,500 employers sign-up for E-Verify each week.

I understand that requiring E-Verify presents challenges for some industries, particularly our nation's agriculture sector.I am not unsympathetic to those challenges.

However, for Congress to address broader legal workforce issues, the American people must first have trust in our nation's lawful immigration system. The only way to do that is to stop illegal immigration. E-Verify does that, and it is a critical first and necessary step toward building that trust.

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