- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437) now under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives is so overreaching that, in my opinion, it could become the Proposition 187 of the 21st century.

Proposition 187 was a Draconian effort in the mid-1990s by California to drive undocumented aliens out of the country and deter their entry by cutting them off from all public services, including education, welfare and other social services such as medical care. The effect was to drastically alienate Hispanic voters in California from the Republican Party.

H.R. 4437 is so overreaching it would effectively transform any relative, employer, co-worker, co-congregant or friend of an undocumented immigrant into an “alien smuggler” and a criminal. The legislation’s far-reaching provisions go far beyond any common-sense definition of a “smuggler” and include average Americans going about their business. It also inappropriately conscripts the American business community into the U.S. government’s immigration police force by requiring burdensome investigative and reporting where prospective employees are concerned.

In a recent letter to several members of Congress, I urged my fellow Republicans to oppose such ill-advised anti-immigrant policies and not support an anti-immigration movement that is politically unwise and fundamentally at odds with the best tradition and spirit of our nation and our party.

Immigrants coming to America do so because this is still the city on a shining hill for the poor and persecuted. Most aliens come here out of necessity, looking for work, not welfare, and for opportunities that do not exist in their native countries.

In the long run, the best way to fix our immigration system is not to militarize the border or drive undocumented immigrants further into the shadows. The flood of illegal immigration exists, largely because U.S. laws do not provide legal channels for employers’ labor demands and immigrants willing to work. An estimated 70 percent of the current agriculture work force is illegal. Current guest-worker programs are capped at 66,000 annually for nonagriculture service industries. The temporary agricultural-worker program is so bureaucratic more than 40 percent of applications to the Labor Department are not acted upon until after the harvest, and current laws allow only 5,000 unskilled workers admitted annually on a permanent basis.

Our country needs immigration reforms that allow undocumented workers of good character who have resided in the United States for many years to apply for documented status; those who have lost their status as legal residents but remain eligible to become permanent residents to remain here while seeking to regain their status; and help reduce family backlogs by providing more visas for close relatives of citizens and permanent residents.

We need a guest-worker program, such as proposed by President Bush, to fulfill the work of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh, who said, “Close the back door of illegal immigration so as to keep open the golden door of legal immigration.”

Anti-immigration politicians and candidates fail to realize a few fundamental truths, most importantly that we are a nation of immigrants. George Washington famously said in 1788 that, “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”

It’s true our borders are broken and the problem is huge, but Republicans have the opportunity today to take the lead on reforms that fix our immigration system. Sending this legislation to the president is sure to be perceived as anti-immigrant and, indeed, anti-growth. This mistake of incalculable proportions should be stopped and redrafted to include a guest-worker provision that is both humane and pro-growth.

Jack Kemp is founder and chairman of Kemp Partners and honorary co-chairman of the Free Enterprise Fund and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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