Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “Ending Illegal Immigration”

March 9, 2008

Posted on March 9, 2008

Other than the war on terror, there is nothing more important than fixing our broken immigration system. That’s why I cosponsored bipartisan legislation last week to curb illegal immigration by providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to tighten the country’s borders and by expanding programs that help employers verify work eligibility. The Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act increases border security, improves the existing voluntary employer verification system while making it mandatory, and strengthens state and local law enforcement efforts to reduce illegal immigration. We must regain the public’s confidence when it comes to immigration, and to do that we must first secure our borders. The SAVE Act does the right thing by both increasing our law enforcement’s ability to enforce existing laws and expanding the current electronic employee verification system to ensure that those being hired are supposed to be here. How specifically would the save act reduce illegal immigration? First, it would add 8,000 Border patrol agents during five years and increase aerial and satellite surveillance of the border. It would also increase the number of federal judges to speed up deportation of illegal immigrants Second, the SAVE Act would improve the E-Verify employment verification program and requiring it for all employees. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees. E-Verify is currently voluntary, but would become mandatory under the SAVE Act. Mandatory participation would be phased-in over four years, starting with the federal government, federal contractors and employers with more than 250 employees. The SAVE Act would also improve E-Verify by closing loopholes and requiring information sharing among different agencies to detect people using stolen Social Security numbers. Third, the SAVE Act would enable state and local law enforcement officials to more effectively enforce existing federal laws by providing additional staff, training and infrastructure. It would also permit border governors to request additional agents during a security emergency. The SAVE Act would be an important step toward securing our borders and ending illegal immigration, but there are other measures we should consider to fix our broken immigration system and help ensure that new immigrants learn English and understand what makes us Americans. For example, I’ve introduced the Strengthening American Citizenship Act to encourage legal immigrants who are prospective citizens to take English classes and learn about U.S. history and government. I’ve also introduced the Protecting English in the Workplace Act, to protect employers from being sued for requiring their employees to speak English while engaged in work. Our greatest accomplishment as a country has been uniting our magnificent diversity, and one way we have done that is by all speaking a common language, English. As we did a century ago during our last great wave of immigration, we must make a conscious, proactive effort to develop an ‘American Citizenship Agenda.’ The experience of other nations now struggling to assimilate their own immigrants should serve as a powerful reminder that a melting pot does not stir itself. I voted against the Senate immigration bills in both 2006 and 2007 because they didn’t do enough to secure the border. But I was ready then to keep debating on the Senate floor the immigration dilemma facing our country until we got it right. Our broken immigration system flouts the rule of law upon which this country is founded, and it is a poor example for the rest of the world when we suggest to them that they create governments that rely upon the rule of law. For now, it looks like partisan politics and the upcoming presidential election will keep immigration on the backburner. In the meantime, more and more illegal immigrants will continue to pour across our borders. That’s why I hope the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate will change course and permit the SAVE Act to come up for a debate so that we can take another important step towards ending illegal immigration.