By Senator Mike Crapo
While not everyone knows for certain the circumstances of their ancestors coming to this country, most can say with certainty that these brave men and women found an opportunity to make the promise of a better life a reality. And, like millions of immigrants before (and after), they shed former allegiances to countries of birth and became-very proudly-Americans. Most Americans share this common heritage: immigrant ancestors coming to this country and enthusiastically adopting a collective history, language and adherence to the rule of law.
Immigration as a public policy issue encompasses American identity, national security, rule of law and our economy. The failures in these areas in the current immigration system were clearly evident in the recent Congressional debate.
Immigration reaches to the heart of American identity-what it means to be a citizen. Droves of highly-emotional phone calls, letters and e-mails I recently received reveal deep convictions that people have about being American. We embrace a commonality of purpose through shared language, love of freedom and respect for liberty.
Immigration affects national security; successful immigration policy means passing and enforcing laws. Border security is a cornerstone of sound immigration law. If our borders are jeopardized, homeland security is compromised.
America is synonymous with opportunity precisely because we are a nation of laws. We are governed by them; by adhering to them and the framework under which they are administered-our Constitution-we live in peace, freedom and prosperity. Abiding by the rule of law means rejecting policies that reward illegal entry into the United States with the gift of permanent residency. This only serves to encourage new illegal immigration. Gaining citizenship is a privilege, granted to those who uphold our laws. Immigration policy must reflect the fact that citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Furthermore, any new naturalization procedures and permanent legal residency programs provided by law must be created only after carefully evaluating immigration healthcare costs and tax ramifications. This didn't occur to my satisfaction. Above all, the primary reason I voted against this bill was because it granted immediate permanent legal residency to everyone who has illegally entered the country since the last amnesty program in 1986.
At the same time, we must have a temporary guest worker program to fill jobs that are not filled by American citizens. A robust economy depends on it. U.S.-based businesses need economic incentives to keep operations stateside. If they have a dependable labor pool at all skill levels, incentives to move operations overseas are greatly decreased. We appreciate consumer goods and agriculture products "Made in America." We can keep things that way by approaching immigration rationally and sensibly. Whatever the skill level, any temporary guest worker system must be enforceable and reliable for the worker and employer. Once Americans have been given "first right" to jobs, employers such as the agriculture industry must have access to a system that's cost-effective, not bureaucratic, and doesn't carry the risk of prosecution while employers are trying to comply with the law. Congress understands the urgency of reaching a workable solution and is moving in the right direction.
Idahoans are concerned about all aspects of immigration and represent all sides of the debate. Discussions have been productive and many good ideas were introduced. U.S. immigration policy has always been contentious and challenging, but I'm confident that we will yet find a path forward to preserve border integrity, keep our economy growing, and, above all and within the framework of the rule of law, keep America a place that represents freedom and the promise of a better life.
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