The Tennessean: Op-ed by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker: Immigration bill would add jobs, secure border

Posted on July 8, 2013

No Republican should vote for legislation that perpetuates amnesty for more than 11 million people illegally in our country, leaves our southern border open for even more illegal immigration, and stifles economic growth.

That is why we were two of the 68 senators who voted for the immigration bill that takes the most dramatic steps in history to secure our border, ends perpetual amnesty, and encourages job creation.

Since there is so much emotion surrounding the immigration debate, we appreciate this opportunity to offer the reasoning behind our votes:

• Securing our border. The first thing to do with the current immigration mess is to stop more people from coming here illegally. The Hoeven-Corker amendment to the bill would double the number of Border Patrol agents; add 350 miles of new fencing (for a total of 700 miles) along our southern border; deploy new technology to achieve full border surveillance; fully implement an electronic visa entry/exit system at ports of entry; and make mandatory an electronic employer verification system to be sure employees are here legally.

The money to put all this in place was appropriated with the bill.

The major criticism we heard of Hoeven-Corker was that it did too much. But that was the point: to do whatever it takes to secure the border so the kind of illegal immigration we have seen for the past 25 years doesn’t happen again.

• Ending perpetual amnesty. Sen. Marco Rubio calls it “de facto amnesty,” but by any name it is the same thing: turning your head while 11 million people illegally reside here. The bill does what we usually do with people who break the law: It identifies them, fines them, and requires them to work and pay taxes. If they have committed no felonies they are then allowed to live and work here, but they are NOT citizens and NOT eligible for federal means-tested benefits such as health care, food stamps and other welfare programs.

What about citizenship? For these 11 million newly registered immigrants, the possibility of citizenship is a long way down the road and contingent on getting right with the law and deployment of new enforcement measures. First, all of the new border security measures in Hoeven-Corker must be in place before they can apply for legal permanent residence, which is not citizenship but is known as a “green card.” Second, adults must wait at least 10 years and go to the back of the line behind all applicants who came here through normal legal processes. Finally, they must pay $2,000 in fines, show they have a job and that they are enrolled in English and U.S. history courses. Any application for citizenship comes only after all that.

Not one senator offered an amendment to round up all 11 million illegal immigrants and send them home. So either you treat them as others who break the law — as the bill does — or you ignore the problem, perpetuating amnesty.

Creating economic growth and jobs. Our current immigration system discourages economic growth and job creation. Some of the most talented people in the world are attracted to our universities. Even though many want to stay here and create jobs when they graduate, our laws send them home. One of the best things about the bill is that it increases the number of visas for highly skilled people, expands guest worker programs and creates a merit-based immigration system. We want the next Google to be created in the U.S., not overseas.

The Senate, after weeks of debate, has done its best to secure the border, end perpetual amnesty and create a merit-based system of legal immigration. That’s the kind of immigration system a country that prizes the American Dream should have.

Our Founders created a Congress with two chambers. Now, the issue moves to the House, giving its members an opportunity to improve upon what the Senate did. Failure to do so would do what no Republican and no Tennessean should want: perpetuate amnesty for 11 million people illegally here, leave open a southern border for even more illegal immigration, and stifle economic growth.

Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are Tennessee’s United States senators.