By U.S. REP. ROGER WILLIAMS
Few issues are more important that securing our border. Texas accounts for about half of the U.S. border with Mexico, so it’s not surprising that the Census Bureau found that Texas is home to 15 percent of all illegal immigrants in the United States. In fact, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that illegal immigrants accounted for 6.7 percent of Texas’ population and 9 percent of its labor force in 2010.
This is why any solution to our immigration challenge must begin with border security. The effects of our nation’s broken immigration system can be felt most profoundly in border states, where the states’ resources – like education, health care and entitlement programs – are burdened far more than those of the federal government because of an influx of individuals who illegally cross the border.
A 2010 report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office found that only 44 percent of the Southern border was under “operational control” of the Border Patrol. Further, the report revealed that only 6.5 percent of the border is under “full control.” This is completely unacceptable and should have been a major red flag for the President. Instead, the president traded out that system for one without any clear capability of measuring border security.
To put it simply: The president chose to go from a system that revealed how broken and porous our borders are to a system that has no way of collecting or analyzing that data. The GAO’s 2012 Border Patrol Strategy report stated that the system we now use “limits oversight and accountability and has reduced information provided to Congress.” This is outrageous and poses a serious threat to our national security.
Earlier this year, a group of Senators instrumental to the Senate’s recent immigration bill toured the Arizona border with the Customs and Border officials. In an ironic twist of fate, they witnessed a young woman climbing the border fence separating Mexico from the U.S. One would assume that this event would spur lawmakers to act, yet the Senate’s proposal last month places border security far down on its list of priorities. This is one of the many reasons I do not support the Senate’s flawed plan.
Secondly, we must reject amnesty. We tried that in the past, and it exacerbated the problem. In 1986, Congress granted amnesty to 3 million immigrants coupled with a promise to enhance border security and immigration enforcement, but now there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. We can’t afford to repeat our mistakes, and we can’t afford the Senate’s bill that places amnesty above border security.
Many argue that we need to create a path to citizenship. We already have one! Millions of immigrants have followed the existing laws we have in place. They have waited in line, worked hard, waited their turn, followed the law, and have been rewarded. In fact, in 2011 the United States granted permanent residence to 1,062,040 immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants who have made wonderful contributions to this country since its first days. Our country admits more immigrants each year than every other country combined. We are a compassionate, generous nation, and we should continue to be one.
Lastly, we need to enforce existing laws rather than add a slew of new laws that will be weakly enforced. For example, an estimated 40 percent of the illegal immigrant population did not come to the U.S. illegally, but rather on temporary visas. In 1996, Congress mandated the implementation of an entry-exit control system to track who was entering and leaving the U.S., including a system to track and identify people who have overstayed a visa. After 17 years and multiple acts of Congress, this system has never been successfully implemented.
This does show the need to revamp our visa program to make sure that certain industries have the workers they need. Our economy needs access to the best and brightest engineers and scientists in the world. But we must do so in a way that stops illegal immigration. We can’t allow ourselves to believe that a massive overhaul of our immigration system will be successful or effective. We’re already seeing that the massive government overhaul is too complex for the creators of the law to implement – the Senate’s immigration bill would not be any different.
As the House takes on the challenge of reforming this broken system, any plan must start with border security, reject amnesty, and rely on enforcing existing laws. Anything less would not reflect the will of the people.
Congressman Roger Williams is a Weatherford businessman and represents the 25th Congressional District of Texas.