The Conservative Case for Immigration Reform
The bipartisan bill exemplifies “enforcement first.”


Jeff Flake

Before any illegal immigrant can adjust to a non-citizenship provisional status, DHS must have submitted the border-security and border-fencing strategies. Only then will these immigrants be able to legally work in the country — but they will not be eligible for government assistance (unemployment, welfare, Obamacare, etc.). Moreover, to be eligible for this non-citizenship provisional status, illegal immigrants must pay a $500 fine, pass a background check, and pay fees. And before most illegal immigrants can adjust from this provisional status to being lawful permanent residents, the border-security and border-fencing strategies will have to be operational and functioning. Additionally, every employer in the country will have to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of every employee hire. E-Verify is in use in Arizona, but this bill will make it mandatory across the country.

Only after ten years can these provisional-status immigrants apply for a green card (which is still short of U.S. citizenship). In order to earn a green card, they will have to pay all back taxes, maintain employment in the U.S., learn English and civics, and wait until everyone who applied for a green card before them has been processed. It will likely be close to 13 years before current illegal immigrants begin to become eligible for citizenship. It is a long and difficult path, but even though some law-abiding and productive members of our society will eventually earn that opportunity, not all of them will take it.

Other measures important to conservatives, like an overhaul of the legal-immigration system with a shift to a more merit-based process and a more robust temporary-worker program, are also included in the bill.

Conservatives worried that President Obama or Secretary Napolitano will be able to expedite the legalization sections of the bill while dragging their feet on border security should consider that the border-security measures come first, while the status-adjustment portions of the bill will take many years. It’s also worth noting that it’s likely that this process will occur under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

As this bill moves through regular order and is debated and amended, conservatives may not always agree on every aspect. But I think we can all agree that the status quo is unacceptable, and I’m convinced that this legislation moves us in a positive direction.

— Jeff Flake is the junior U.S. senator from Arizona.