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BARLETTA: No border security, no amnesty

A patched fence is no substitute for a system that really works

- - Monday, July 29, 2013

As mayor of Hazleton, Pa., I witnessed firsthand the impact illegal immigration can have on a community and its residents. We noticed that while our population had increased by 50 percent, our tax base had remained the same. As a result, there have been few in this country who have stood up against illegal immigration as I have. In my view, the Senate bill promises amnesty before security. It has the priorities exactly backwards.

As mayor, I passed an ordinance that said that if an employer knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, that employer's license would be suspended. The act also said that if a landlord knowingly rented to an illegal immigrant, that license would also be suspended. Naturally, I was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, and that case is still pending. As a result, I strongly support a mandatory E-Verify system to be used by employers to discern the legality of prospective workers.

My experiences in my hometown have informed my decisions while in Congress. While some have focused on the southern border as the sole cause of our illegal-immigration situation, I can attest that Hazleton is 2,000 miles from the nearest southern border, yet we still had an illegal-immigration problem. We have 652 miles of fence already built along Mexico — and I support building more where feasible and effective — but it is not a panacea by itself.

Having visited the border near San Diego this spring, I have seen the fence patched in many places to repair holes cut by border crossers. I walked through the tunnel that others have used to skirt our laws, and I wonder why we count on a fence to keep out intruders when all they have to do is bring a ladder that is one foot taller. Quite literally, illegal immigrants have gone over, under and through our fence. Additionally, the terrain along the border is not always receptive to fencing, and much of the land, particularly in West Texas, is privately owned. Do conservatives advocate using eminent domain to seize the land to build the fence? I find that doubtful.

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 40 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 United States for five years from the date of conviction and may not apply for a visa for 10 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 prison. 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, the 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.

Illegal immigration is a clear and demonstrable threat to our national security — of that there can be no question. In addition, granting amnesty to untold millions of illegal immigrants will flood our job markets and reduce wages and employment for those hard-working immigrants and lower-income workers who have followed our laws. And 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 kill the Senate bill.

We have immigration laws in the 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, so some of my House colleagues and I are asking the obvious question — why would we do this?

Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, represents Pennsylvania's 11th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.