Monday, January 19, 2004

Congress should make sure that President Bush’s guest-worker proposal does not grant amnesty or U.S. citizenship to those now in the country illegally, says Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who has vigorously sought upgraded security along the nation’s southern border.

“The president, of course, espoused broad principles,” said Mr. Kyl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary terrorism, technology and homeland security subcommittee, and a member of the subcommittee on immigration.

“It is appropriately up to Congress to work with the administration on the details. I hope we can make a real effort to find some consensus on a guest-worker program,” he said. “But any such legislation must not create opportunities for amnesty, nor confer U.S. citizenship to those who have violated U.S. laws.”

Mr. Bush’s proposed immigration initiative, announced Jan. 7, would allow millions of illegal aliens now in the United States to remain in the country as guest workers for renewable three-year periods if they have jobs. The aliens eventually could apply for permanent legal residence.

From 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals, are estimated to be in the United States.

Mr. Kyl has steadfastly argued that the government lacks either the will or the ability to enforce existing immigration laws and that legal immigrants — those who “followed all the rules, waited patiently and sometimes left their homelands at great risk to become American citizens” — have watched as illegal aliens continue to flood the United States.

He has blamed the government’s failure to enforce immigration laws on the lure of cheap labor, the costs of hiring and deploying border agents and other necessary resources, and a “politically correct expression of sympathy with the violators that is often exploited for perceived political gain.”

“Because of these obstacles to border enforcement, I approach the notion of ‘guest-worker’ legislation very cautiously,” he said. “If we are not enforcing current immigration laws, the question naturally arises: Why would we be any more likely to enforce new laws?

“Without a clear, firm intent to enforce existing laws, what would discourage more illegal immigrants from entering the country in hopes of yet another ‘guest-worker’ or amnesty bill in the future?” he said.

Mr. Kyl said those questions and numerous others need to be answered during as-yet unscheduled hearings in Congress on any proposed guest-worker program.

“As a nation, we need to return to Thomas Jefferson’s point about immigration: that we should welcome all, but take seriously the rules governing their entry and participation in American life,” he said. “Anything less undercuts the sanctity of our laws and the value of being a citizen of the greatest nation on earth.”

Mr. Kyl has been in the forefront of efforts by members of Congress in calling for the government to do a better job of securing the nation’s borders and in protecting America against terrorists while not hampering legitimate trade and travel.

He was among several senators during a Judiciary Committee hearing late last year who told Asa Hutchinson, the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, that blunders and missteps by immigration officials were the result of an unfocused, unconnected and unsophisticated border-security system that allowed the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Kyl also has sought federal assistance for Arizona and other border states in defraying the cost of processing illegal aliens through local criminal-justice systems. He has argued that controlling illegal immigration is a federal responsibility and, when Washington fails, the affected states should not have to pick up the tab.

He noted that in the 28 Southwestern border counties of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, the cost of processing illegal aliens who commit crimes is $125 million annually. Mr. Kyl also is pushing legislation calling for the federal government to reimburse states by $1.45 billion a year for the costs of federally mandated emergency medical treatment of illegal aliens.

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