Secure the borders

Saturday, June 3, 2006

America has a proud history of immigration. We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. Like all sovereign nations, America has the right to determine who may enter our country and who may not.

The American people have chosen to strike a balance in their laws between their desire to provide opportunities to new residents of diverse backgrounds and the economic reality that too much immigration too fast will depress the wages and diminish the hopes of millions of our own citizens.

I opposed the Senate immigration bill because it would overturn this balance. It would grant a broad-based amnesty to the 10 million to 12 million people who, however understandable their motives, have chosen to trespass on our hospitality and violate our laws, and it does so under conditions which history has shown will increase rather than reduce unlawful immigration in the future.

I also opposed the bill because it authorizes a vast, unvalidated increase in immigration. The bill allows 70 to 90 million immigrants to enter the country over the next 20 years -- people who will compete directly against Americans for jobs in construction or manufacturing.

Moreover, the legal immigration provisions in the bill will cost our taxpayers $54 billion over the next 10 years.

I can't see how we can ask taxpayers to pay this price in support of foreign workers we may not even need and put at risk programs that Missourians rely upon like Medicare and Medicaid.

Finally, the bill does little to fix the current legal immigration system. We should concentrate first on making our current programs at least minimally workable for people who have a right to immigrate under current laws, yet the bill makes their situation worse, because it puts them at the back of the line.

I do support the border security provisions in the bill. Border security is a national security issue rather than an immigration issue. For that reason, I recently sponsored bipartisan legislation that would help secure America's borders with additional manpower, new fences and barriers, high-tech surveillance equipment and criminal penalties for human smuggling, falsifying work/entry documents and drug trafficking.

The immigration bill before the Senate contains many similar provisions, and the Senate did approve an amendment which I co-sponsored providing for the construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fence and 500 miles of vehicle barrier at strategic locations along the border.

But on balance the bad in the legislation far outweighed the good. The Senate had a chance to pass a good bill -- a bill that secured the border, that fixed the system of legal immigration, that developed the biometrics our border security and immigration agents need to enforce the law, that stopped the coyotes and the fly-by-night employers from circumventing the law. The Senate fumbled that chance.

My hope is that in conference with the House, the Senate will agree to a commonsense border-security bill that respects the balance which the American people want, are waiting for, and have the right to expect.

Jim Talent represents Missouri in the U.S. Senate. He is sponsoring the Border Security and Modernization Act of 2005.

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