- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2012

President Obama’s State of the Union address - coupled with recent troubling decisions by his administration to expand a pattern of de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants - cemented the unfortunate reality that this president continues intentionally to abdicate a responsibility to advance serious immigration reform. Empty rhetoric, repetitive platitudes and continued support for the already-rejected Dream Act do not make up a comprehensive proposal to this complex policy issue.

These remarks follow the administration’s decision to ease certain regulations on the visa program and move to release some deportation cases by focusing solely on whether a person poses “a national security threat,” only the latest addition to a list of blatant unilateral White House orders intended to curry favor with Hispanics.

The politics is conniving: Portray reform-minded Republicans and conservatives as unsympathetic to this fastest-growing demographic sector and bolster the president’s re-election chances in swing states with significant Hispanic votes, such as Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado and Arizona.

This scheme is not only misguided, but to someone who legally entered this great nation as a youth, it’s appalling.

I join most Americans, especially fellow Hispanics, across the political and ideological spectrum who understand the importance of legal immigration as vital to sustaining the greatness of America’s economic and cultural fabric.

It’s an absurd idea - fronted by liberals and often a complicit media - that legal immigrants, including Hispanics, who chose to follow the rule of law and contribute to the American community would be willing to give a subservient pass - let alone their vote - to politicians who embrace and promote the politics of illegal immigration and leave nearly 12 million undocumented aliens in limbo.

With a broken system, illegal immigration makes a mockery of the promise of legal immigration, and the American people are rightfully fed up.

According to a Gallup poll released last week, liberals were the only ideological or party segment to express greater satisfaction than dissatisfaction with current levels of immigration. All others, including Democrats, supported a decrease in immigration levels.

Gallup also found that “Americans’ dissatisfaction with immigration ranks third highest among 17 issues Gallup asked about.”

It’s little wonder that immigration is gaining as a critical election-year issue, with voters questioning inaction on reform.

Republicans in their presidential primary are taking note and debating immigration proposals - as they should. As Florida, my home state, takes center stage in the primary cycle, expect voters to demand more answers on immigration. Today, the leading Republican candidates will address the Hispanic Leadership Network’s annual conference in Miami, hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. It’s the perfect opportunity for them to outline their specific proposals.

There is little chance that Congress will address significant immigration reform this year. However, the issue must be a top priority in the first 100 days of 2013, and any serious reform legislation must embrace these key principles: vastly improved border security; visa reform for highly skilled workers, investors and agricultural workers; and the documenting of the millions of illegal immigrants already here.

The first priority must be to develop a comprehensive border-security-and-surveillance strategy to include increased border manpower, strengthened border barriers, expanded surveillance capabilities, enhanced investigative personnel and enforced border detention.

We cannot afford porous borders and unknown people - potential security risks - living in our country and taxing our state and local communities’ safety-net budgets.

Then, Congress must implement a nationwide mandatory employment verification program with enhanced employer penalties. This will require all illegal immigrants to register, and those who state a desire to leave voluntarily will have the right to apply subsequently for admission without prejudice.

They must admit to their unlawful presence in the United States and waive any claim for asylum. Work-permit opportunities would be available to those without criminal records who can demonstrate proof of employment when filing an application. In such cases, there is no direct path to citizenship, and recipients of work permits must have paid income taxes, have health insurance and must pay fines and penalties.

Special rules will be developed for the elderly, disabled individuals, students and those in military service, longtime agricultural workers and aliens brought to the United States as innocent children younger than 12.

Thereafter, the Department of Commerce would determine the number of temporary work permits to be made available annually to fulfill the needs of America’s employers.

With regard to high-skilled immigration, master’s and doctoral-degree graduates from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering and math areas will receive visas as long as they have job offers.

No law will be perfect and please every constituency, but the time is urgent; action must be taken, and every congressional leader who abhors dealing with the topic should bite the political bullet and agree to a comprehensive reform package in early 2013 for the good of the nation.

I’m confident that this election cycle will elevate the debate on immigration reform because the American people have realized what the administration and liberals in Congress have not: The current attitude of sanctioning illegal immigration as a blatant political ploy places our economy and communities at risk and is simply unacceptable.

Al Cardenas is the chairman of the American Conservative Union. He is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

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