Darrell Issa | Serving California's 49th District

Issa: Setting Priorities for Immigration Reform

March 4, 2013

With more than 11 million illegal immigrants residing in this country, we know the 1986 immigration “fix” did not work. President Ronald Reagan’s bipartisan plan traded amnesty for future changes to the immigration system that never came. Twenty-seven years later, we face the same basic problem: millions of illegal immigrants straining our communities without a system in place to deal with such a population.

Neither blanket amnesty nor blanket deportation is the solution. True immigration reform must put our national interests in innovation and a robust economy first, and prevent revisiting this problem yet again.

The bipartisan framework for comprehensive reform put forward by a group of senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offers a realistic starting point to pass and implement reforms that succeed where the 1986 immigration reform bill failed. It acknowledges the need to address existing illegal immigrants and make changes to prevent more to come.

Learning from past mistakes means creating certainty in the immigration process.

Beyond border security, any reform package must make an immediate determination of who stays and who goes, based on our national interests. Those who demonstrate the ability to contribute to our society in a meaningful way should have a path forward to guide them, be placed at the end of the legal-immigration line, meet the strict standards established and face a rigorous but fair application process. Those who are migrant workers should be put into a temporary guest-worker program.

Those whose presence is not in our national interests should be immediately removed. The top priority should be identifying and removing criminal aliens. Recent records released by the Department of Homeland Security show one in six illegal immigrants are re-arrested on criminal charges within three years of release. I have a proposal to put the safety of our citizens first. My Criminal Alien Accountability legislation (H.R. 457) creates mandatory minimum sentences for deported criminal aliens who return to the country.

Further, those who are dependent on social services and cannot contribute to our society through gainful employment should also be removed. It is not in our nation’s best interests to allow anyone to stay whose burdens on our social welfare systems outweigh their contributions to our country.

The president’s proposal to put the current 11 million illegal immigrants in a pool labeled “temporary” is naïve and would leave our nation no closer to solving the problem we have allowed to grow for so long. Furthermore, it is inherently un-American to create a new group of second-class citizens that are allowed to stay indefinitely but given an indefinite unknown status.

Let us correct the failures of our past by creating a strict and efficient legal immigration system that can adjust to our national needs. Potential employers need a guest worker system that fills their temporary employment requirements, and Americans should demand a system that does not allow these workers to become indefinite guests. A fast and reliable method to confirm the legal status of new hires should be in place. In turn, any employer who knowingly hires an unauthorized worker must face stiff penalties. And, make our national security a priority by controlling entry and identifying all who reside.

We have a choice to make: Continue hiding from these failures, and allow the situation to deteriorate even further or take meaningful and definitive action so that 10 years from now, we aren’t facing the same problems from the same failures.

At the completion of our reforms, we should have a system that welcomes lawful immigration and puts Americans’ interests first.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, is Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee.