During football season, the teams that win call the right plays from their playbook. And when it comes to immigration reform, Congress needs to make sure it makes the right calls. The House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over our immigration laws, is taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform and building a strategic playbook that first strengthens border security and interior enforcement, improves our legal-immigration programs, and fairly deals with unlawful immigrants.
A robust border-security and interior-enforcement strategy is the first line of defense for any successful immigration system. Strong border security not only reduces illegal immigration, it also helps prevent drug smugglers, human traffickers, and terrorists from entering the United States. Interior enforcement helps detect two types of unlawful immigrants — those who make it past the border and those who violate the terms of their visas. In fact, it’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of unlawful immigrants came here legally and then overstayed their visas.
One reason why our immigration system is broken today is that President Obama and past administrations have largely ignored the enforcement of our immigration laws. Any real reform must take away the enforcement “on/off” switch from the president and guarantee that our laws will be enforced. That’s why the House Judiciary Committee has approved two commonsense bills to ensure that our laws are enforced and that the system works.
The Committee recently passed the SAFE Act, which grants states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, thereby preventing the president from unilaterally turning off immigration enforcement. It also strengthens national security by increasing border security, improving visa security, and protecting American communities from dangerous criminal immigrants.
Additionally, the Committee passed the Legal Workforce Act, requiring all U.S. employers to use E-Verify. This web-based program easily detects unlawful workers by checking the Social Security numbers of new hires against records of the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security. E-Verify is much more accurate than the current paper-based, error-prone I-9 system. It easily confirms 99.7 percent of work-eligible employees in two minutes.
Immigration reform must also improve the fundamentals of our legal immigration programs. Currently, we select only about 12 percent of immigrants based on the skills and education they bring to the U.S. However, some of our global competitors select around 60 percent of immigrants on these qualifications. In today’s global economy, we cannot afford to lose the hardest workers and brightest minds to our competitors abroad.
The House Judiciary Committee has passed the SKILLS Visa Act to address this problem. This bill makes smart changes to our immigration system to help grow our economy and create jobs for American workers. It provides American employers with access to the world’s best talent by increasing H-1B visas, allocating green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities who have advanced degrees in scientific fields, and repealing the employment-based per-country cap, which doesn’t increase legal immigration but does decrease the longest wait times. It also facilitates job creation by establishing a new entrepreneur visa program and strengthening the investor visa program, which could lead to countless jobs for American workers. The bill also contains a market-based approach to protect American workers.
We must also create a new temporary agricultural-guest-worker program so that American farmers have access to a reliable work force. Our current guest-worker program exposes farmers to excessive regulation and litigation, making it unworkable both for farmers and for immigrants. The simple truth is that it encourages people to break our laws and punishes those who want to follow them. That has to change.
The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill, the Agricultural Guest Worker Act, to provide farmers with a new guest-worker program, one that removes red tape and eases access to a lawful, agricultural work force that employers may call on when sufficient American labor cannot be found. While the bill eases access to foreign workers, it also contains strong protections for American workers. This guest-worker program helps deter illegal immigration, equips farmers to compete in the world market, and allows them to continue growing our crops.
Our immigration playbook must also find a way to fairly deal with unlawful immigrants. However, it’s imperative that enforcement be in place before any consideration of legalization. Since our immigration laws have been largely ignored for the past 30 years, there are now an estimated 11 million unlawful immigrants living here. Most of them have been living here for more than ten years.
The current unlawful-immigrant population is diverse, so the solutions may vary. For example, while some knowingly broke our immigration laws, others were brought illegally to the U.S. as children by their parents. These children came here through no fault of their own, and many of them know no other home than the U.S. We need both a realistic plan to deal with the people who are already here and a responsible solution to make sure we never get in this mess again. We should not, as the Senate immigration bill does, create a special pathway to citizenship for those who knowingly broke our immigration laws. It’s unfair to those who have waited in line and followed our immigration rules to create an entirely new, currently nonexistent path to citizenship for those who disregarded our laws.
Like any goal, successful immigration reform will take hard work and a good strategy to ensure that the solutions are reasonable, realistic, consistent, and fair. By doing immigration reform from the right playbook, we will create a workable immigration system for the years to come so that future generations don’t have to tackle this issue once again.
— Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.