National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Advocates Disappointed By Immigration Proposal Introduced By Senators Cornyn and Kyl

July 19, 2005

Washington, DCToday Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona introduced a long-awaited immigration reform proposal.  As drafted, the bill toughens immigration enforcement, creates a new category of temporary worker visas (good for two years, and renewable up to two times if the worker returns for one year in between renewals), and requires the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to pay a fine and leave the country before becoming eligible for the short-term guest worker visas.  The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, in response to the bill’s introduction.

In recent months Senator Cornyn has distinguished himself by correctly diagnosing our broken immigration system.  He has repeatedly said that the only way to solve the immigration dilemma is to combine tougher enforcement with a legal regime that deals realistically both with those entering our nation and those already here.  That is why we are so disappointed with the bill he introduced today with Senator Kyl.  As much as we believe the Senator is sincere about tackling this difficult issue and committed to solving the problem, the bill introduced today is neither balanced nor workable. 

The proposal is mostly sticks with few carrots.  The proposal combines tougher enforcement with both a guestworker program that does not sufficiently protect workers and an unworkable “report to deport” requirement for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently working and living in the United States.  Instead of offering carrots to draw the 11 million out of the shadows so they register with the government, submit to screenings, pay a fine, and get in line for eventual permanent residency, it presents mostly sticks that would keep them in the shadows and even force them further underground.  Instead of reuniting families in a more timely fashion and keeping nuclear families together, the bill would most likely result in more families split between different countries for longer periods of time.  Instead of ensuring that immigrant workers are treated equally so that both low-wage workers and law-abiding employers benefit, the bill would likely end up favoring employers who undercut their competitors by hiring short-term guest workers.  Instead of providing for a stable workforce and promoting citizenship, the bill threatens to force workers out of the country or out of their jobs, providing no path to citizenship.

We are not casual observers in the immigration debate.  We understand how hard it is to fashion immigration reform that can pass Congress and work on the ground once enacted.  We are fully prepared to support and fight for a combination of tough and smart enforcement measures if combined with simultaneous reforms to our admissions policies that bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and provide a limited but realistic number of worker and family reunification visas for the future flow.  We are committed to a bipartisan, realistic, hard-nosed approach to bringing immigration out of the black market and under the rule of law.  And we are prepared to work with policy makers and constituencies from across the spectrum to get it done. 

But we cannot and will not support proposals that have no realistic chance of working once implemented.  We suspect that our generation is going to have one chance to enact workable reform.  That’s why we insist that we not only get it done, but that we get it done right.

The only proposal on the table that is truly comprehensive, bipartisan, and realistic is the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005, authored by Senators McCain and Kennedy and by Representatives Kolbe, Flake, and Gutierrez.  It is consistent with our long-stated principles, and will result in both better treatment of immigrant workers and families and a more controlled immigration system. 

That bill has broad bipartisan support, and we are confident it will enjoy broad support when considered by the full Judiciary Committee and the full Senate.  Bipartisanship is essential because deep divisions in the Republican Party means that some GOP support for reform will not be enough to pass legislation.  Strong support from Democrats will be necessary.  Bipartisanship also signals to the country that both parties are committed to following through so that the promise of reform that brings both more effective controls and more realistic admissions policies is realized. 

Our goal is that a strong bipartisan bill emerges from the Senate, hopefully later this year.  This, in turn, would pressure the House to respond with similar legislation.  While today's offering from Senators Cornyn and Kyl is unworkable policy, they are important voices to add to the debate begun by the President in 2004 and furthered greatly by the work of Senators McCain and Kennedy and Representatives Kolbe, Flake, and Gutierrez.  We urge the President to find his voice, and hope that lawmakers put their muscle into moving legislation that is comprehensive, realistic, and fixes the broken system once and for all.

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