Senate Democrats

America Needs Tough, Fair and Practical Immigration Reform

America’s immigration system is broken. Ineffective enforcement and inadequate pathways to legal immigration have led to a skyrocketing number of illegal immigrants. It is estimated that nearly 12 million people live in this country without authorization, with an additional 500,000 settling each year. Last year, the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan measure to address this problem, but it was blocked by House Republicans. The American people deserved better. In the 110th Congress, Democrats have made immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical a top priority. As the Senate’s scheduled debate on this issue approaches, it is important to remember why fixing our broken immigration system is important to our nation.

Illegal immigration has skyrocketed. Approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States today, up from 5 million in 1996. Our immigration laws, which provide for only 5,000 low-skilled work visas per year, have not kept up with employers’ needs, estimated at approximately 100 times that allocation. Our family immigration system is so backlogged that many people must wait years, in some cases decades, to be reunited with loved ones. This mismatch of supply of legal means of entry and demand for immigration has led to increased illegal immigration. [National Immigration Forum, “Answers to Important Questions on Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” 06/06; Third Way, “A Heck of a Job on Immigration Enforcement,” 05/06]

Illegal immigration is a threat to national security. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are law-abiding, productive people, who have contributed a great deal to the spirit, culture and economy of our nation. Nevertheless, in a post 9/11 world, it is vital that we know the identities and/or whereabouts of the millions of foreign nationals who live within our borders. Failing to do so represents an enormous gap in U.S. intelligence and fosters a black market of fake documents and criminal smuggling that can be used by those who truly want to harm our nation. Given that it is unrealistic to round-up and deport 12 million people, it is imperative that we create incentives for undocumented persons to come out of the shadows and reduce the number of immigrants crossing our borders illegally. [Coalition for Immigration Security, 7/06]

Illegal immigration is unfair to American taxpayers. Immigration reform is needed to re-establish the rule of law and require all those who live in the United States to pay their fair share of taxes. Further, businesses that hire illegal immigrants must no longer be allowed to avoid paying wage taxes on these workers, who make up nearly 5% of our workforce. [Pew Hispanic Center, “The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.,” 03/06]

Enforcement-only solutions have not worked in the past.Although Congress has drastically increased the budget for Border Patrol, from $151 million in 1986 to $1.6 billion in 2002, and the number of border patrol agents, from 4,876 in 1995 to 11,106 in 2005, illegal immigration has skyrocketed. [National Immigration Forum, “Immigration Enforcement: What Has Been Tried? What Has Been the Result?,” 03/06; Third Way, “A Heck of a Job on Immigration Enforcement,” 05/06]

  • At the Border: Under the Bush Administration, apprehensions at the border have fallen by over 31%. Between the fiscal years of 1996 and 2000 the average number of apprehensions was 1.52 million. Between the years of 2001 and 2004, this number fell to 1.05 million. [Third Way, “A Heck of a Job on Immigration Enforcement,” 05/06]
  • More Deaths. Increased enforcement near urban centers has not stopped the illegal flow but has merely encouraged immigrants to cross the border in more remote areas where they are more difficult to apprehend and more likely to die. A record 460 undocumented immigrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2005. [Chicago Tribune, “460 illegal migrants died crossing border,” 10/2/05]
  • Beyond the Border: Under the Bush Administration, apprehensions in non-border states have fallen by over 36%. Between the fiscal years of 1996 and 2000, the average number of apprehensions was 40,193. Between the years of 2001 and 2004, that number fell to 25,901. When you consider that in 2004, over half of the illegal immigrants who lived in this country lived in non-Mexican border states, the chance of an illegal immigrant being apprehended once inside the country is almost negligible. In fact, it would take 228 years to deport all of the undocumented aliens already in the country under the Bush enforcement rates. [Third Way, “A Heck of a Job on Immigration Enforcement,” 05/06]

For nearly five years, the Bush Administration had virtually abandoned the investigation and prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal labor. In 1999, federal authorities imposed 417 fines against companies for hiring illegal labor, but by 2004, they imposed only 3 fines. The Washington Post reported that, “a 2003 memorandum issued by ICE required field offices to request approval before opening work-site cases not related to protecting “critical infrastructure,” such as nuclear plants. Agents focused on removing unauthorized workers, not punishing employers. ICE also faced a $500 million budget shortfall, and resources were shifted from traditional enforcement to investigations related to national security. . . [Former INS Director of Operations, Mark] Reed said, “We were pushed away from doing enforcement.” The combination of an Administration that turned a blind eye to employer misdeeds and employers who turned a blind eye to the law created an environment where illegal hiring could flourish. [Washington Post, “Illegal Hiring is Rarely Penalized,” 7/19/06]

Americans support immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical. A recent nationwide poll of likely voters showed that 75% of Americans support the comprehensive immigration reform package that was passed in the Senate last year. That bipartisan proposal would have addressed illegal immigration from all sides by strengthening border and worksite enforcement, improving avenues to legalization, clearing visa backlogs, and providing for a guest worker program. When asked to choose between comprehensive reform and an enforcement-only approach (or “attrition”), 65% of Americans favored comprehensive reform and only 26% favored the other approach. And a separate poll found that Americans’ top goals for immigration reform are the same as the goals of our bipartisan, comprehensive approach: Tough on the border, fair to taxpayers, and practical in terms of fixing the problem and restoring the rule of law. [National Immigration Forum & Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “A National Survey of Voter Attitudes on Immigration,” 04/07 and Third Way/SEIU survey by Benenson Strategies, 5/06.]