Politics & Policy

Unlabor Day

The immigration bill will hurt American workers.

Few issues cause more passion than the subject of immigration and the U.S. Senate is right in the middle of debating this issue.

Unfortunately the proposal the U.S. Senate is considering was cooked up by a small group of senators negotiating with the White House. It’s being sold as a “great compromise.” But it is not that at all.

I don’t support this immigration bill. I’ll explain why.

The first responsibility we have is to provide real border security so we don’t have massive illegal immigration coming across our borders. With the estimated 12 million people who have already entered our country illegally, it’s clear we’re not yet doing that.

One would think the first order of business for any new immigration bill would to get serious about securing our borders. That’s not the case with this bill, at least not in any meaningful way.

This bill’s solution is to simply give the 12 million people who came here illegally — up through December 31 of last year — legal status and a work card. In addition, it provides for a temporary worker program that will bring in additional millions of guest workers who don’t now live in this country, but who will be permitted to come here and assume American jobs.

This bill will flood the U.S. job market with millions of workers who will compete, at low wages, for jobs Americans are now doing. I believe it will drive down American wages and living standards.

Simply put, this bill fails to stand up for hardworking American citizens.

America is a great country. Many people from throughout the world would like to come here and take part in the American Dream. I understand that.

But, if we had no restrictions on immigration and just threw open the doors and welcomed everyone from everywhere we’d be over run by people wanting to move to the United States.

So, we try to manage immigration through quotas. Nearly a million and a half people come to our country legally every year through this process. In addition, another one million people plus come here each year to work legally at agricultural jobs.

Now, I’m sensitive to the fact that some immigrants who have come here illegally have worked hard for decades and even raised their families here. We need to take that into account as we try to resolve their status.

But I don’t think we should decide that anybody who showed up here illegally as of last December 31 should be given a green light to stay here and work here permanently.

Our laws need to be enforced — both at the border and at the workplace. Just as someone sneaking across the border illegally should be punished, so too should employers who break the law and hire illegal immigrants for low wages.

Once we’ve secured the border, and taken away the market for illegal labor, then will be the time to consider the best way to address the status of illegal immigrants in our country.

When my amendment to remove the guest-worker provision in the bill was debated, the supporters of this legislation argued that we need the guest-worker provision because “otherwise people will just come across illegally.”

I replied, “I thought you told us your bill would fix the border-security problem. But you’re now telling us you won’t have enough border security to stop illegal immigration!” That doesn’t add up to me.

Twenty years ago Congress passed an immigration-reform bill providing amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country. That legislation promised to tighten up border security. But nothing changed. Illegal immigration continued. Now, we are presented with new legislation that makes the same promises and provides the same amnesty.

In my view, this legislation simply accommodates the big-business interests that have demonstrated their eagerness to ship American jobs overseas in search of cheap labor even while they want to bring cheap labor into this country through the back door.

I don’t buy that strategy, and I don’t support this immigration bill.

Proposing to do what has failed in the past is no solution at all. Let’s enforce the laws — provide real border security and stand up for decent wages for American jobs.

When we’ve done that, then it will be time to resolve the status of the 12 million people who have come here without legal authorization.

Byron Dorgan is a United States senator from North Dakota.

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