- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

The immigration bill I voted for in the Senate started the United States down the road to a much better immigration system. But it’s not finished.

In its broad outlines, I support the comprehensive approach that the Senate bill takes. History has taught us that immigration reform measures cannot work in isolation. Simply strengthening physical border security or beginning a guest worker program will not fix the deep, underlying problems in America’s immigration system. Any bill Congress sends to the president must enhance border security, create an operational temporary worker program, provide for work-site enforcement, and address the status of the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

As the House of Representatives conducts public hearings on immigration this summer, I believe it should aim to produce legislation that preserves the Senate’s comprehensive approach while remedying certain flaws in the Senate bill. The Senate’s legislation, I believe, is a mixed bag: It contains some good provisions, some that need work and some that have no place in a final bill.

A number of aspects of the bill have my enthusiastic support. Among other things it will add 370 miles of new fencing along the border, hire thousands of new Customs and Border Protection professionals, provide them with better technology, end the policy of releasing border violators caught along our frontiers, and tighten criminal sanctions for those convicted of immigration-related crimes.

To help assimilate immigrants, the bill establishes English as the national language of the United States and tightens both the civics and English-language requirements for those wishing to become citizens.

Finally, the Senate bill welcomes with open arms the best and brightest from around the world so we can remain competitive in the global economy.

Four major portions of the Senate bill, however, should receive careful scrutiny this summer: Its workplace enforcement measures, its treatment of temporary workers, the way it deals with long-term illegal residents, and the order in which we implement its provisions.

Workplace enforcement stands atop my list of concerns because it’s a prerequisite to any other type of immigration reform. Right now, employers have no effective way to verify whether an individual has proper permission to work in the United States. Unless we develop an effective work-site system, the economic pull of jobs will lead both illegal immigrants and employers to evade whatever barriers we place in their way. While the Senate bill contains some good ideas, I believe its work-site enforcement provisions need improvement.

Second, we need to make sure people admitted under a temporary worker program remain in the United States only temporarily. The current Senate bill would let temporary workers apply for green cards, even without the support of an employer or family member. This undermines the program’s fundamental purpose.

While any law sent to the president for a signature should provide some opportunities for long-term residents who have violated our immigration laws to eventually earn citizenship, they should have to pay a price. Fines aren’t enough.

A final bill should strip out Senate provisions that would give once-illegal immigrants credit for wages they paid into the Social Security system while working under false pretenses. Such immigrants should also remain accountable for any back taxes they owe. Additionally, law enforcement agencies should have access to whatever documentation illegal immigrants submit for use in investigations. The United States, furthermore, should not have to consult with the government of Mexico — or any other foreign government — before it takes steps to strengthen security along its own border.

We also need to consider whether the bill should contain a timing mechanism. I believe we should explore the possibility of requiring the president to certify the borders’ security before implementing a guest worker or earned citizenship program.

The Senate immigration bill began the hard work of building a better immigration system. Provided they are conducted in a civil fashion, I believe the hearings will improve it. In the end, I’m confident the new immigration law that emerges will preserve our heritage as a nation of immigrants, uphold the rule of law, and enhance our national security.

Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, is majority leader of the United States Senate.

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