Our failed immigration policies in the United States don’t work for anyone. I have long argued that we will never, ever solve this problem until we fix our legal immigration system. As long as the delays and penalties for navigating the legal process are more painful than the consequences of coming to the United States illegally, we will continue to have a problem regardless of how high or wide our fence is.
Contrary to public perception, there is a great deal of agreement on many of the solutions needed to address our immigration problem. If you set aside the divisive amnesty issue, you find that there is broad agreement on everything from border security to visa reform. Most of us recognize the need to address the brain drain of high-skilled students leaving our country, the urgency of deporting fugitive aliens who have been convicted of crimes, the value of a visa entry and exit program and reforms to our agricultural worker programs.
Unfortunately, those types of votes have been held hostage to the demands for a broad and immediate amnesty. With Democratic leaders pledging to reject any bill that does not resolve the highest-stake issue — amnesty — in their favor, efforts to resolve even the smallest piece of the immigration quagmire have been stalled.
With new leadership in the Senate and a stronger Republican majority in the House, I am optimistic that we will now be able to move forward on important pieces of the immigration reform puzzle on which there is broad agreement. Among these is a bill I sponsored that addresses the barriers facing high-skilled immigrants.
Despite passing the House by a vote of 389-15, my bill to remove the per-country caps on employment- and family-based visas stalled in the unproductive Democrat-led Senate. This bill simply removes some of the penalties and delays that discriminately affect people from high-population countries such as Mexico, India and China. It didn’t stall because we couldn’t agree. Both Democrats and Republicans recognize that visas should be available on a first-come, first-served basis without regard to country of origin. The bill stalled because the Senate never took a vote.
Last November, I introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a consistent and reliable pay system within the Border Patrol. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill would save taxpayers upward of $100 million annually. These pay reforms would also enhance border security by ensuring that a greater number of agents are in the field on a more consistent basis.
With a new Senate majority leader and newly elected House and Senate members who are committed to finding solutions, I believe the time is right to pass common-sense immigration reforms that fix our legal immigration system, creating incentives for would-be immigrants to come in through the front door again.
If immigration reform were easy, it would have been done by now. Nevertheless, we need to stop holding the simple fixes hostage to the resolution of the amnesty question.