June 27, 2013

Crapo: America Deserves Better On Immigration Reform

We cannot afford to repeat past mistakes

Washington, D.C. - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo voted against final passage of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or the Immigration Reform bill.  The Senate has been considering the legislation for approximately three weeks after the bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee. 

"Throughout the history of the United States, our immigration laws have been periodically altered and adapted to meet our changing needs and circumstances, Crapo said.  "It is clear that reforms are past due.  However, S. 744, the Border Security, Stabilization and Modernization Act, would not provide the types of reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike.  Unfortunately, the current Senate bill bears striking resemblance to laws passed in 1965, 1968 and 1986.  Americans need and deserve better, and we cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

"The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA) was sold on the premise that it would solve the issues plaguing both the 1965 and 1968 attempts at congressional reform.  Sadly, these same problems not only still exist today, but have worsened over the past two decades.  ICRA's proponents promised that, in exchange for legalizing approximately 3 million illegal immigrants, the U.S. government would finally, and effectively, secure our border.  ICRA prescribed employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers, a workable guest worker program for agriculture, and guaranteed first opportunities for America's unemployed labor force.  On its face, ICRA and S. 744 are remarkably similar.

"More than 25 years later, the estimated population of illegal immigrants has ballooned to 11 million, and the seasonal program promised to aid America's farms and ranches is bogged down in bureaucracy, rendering it largely ineffective.  Further, economists at the Council on Foreign Relations estimate an apprehension range of 40 to 55 percent, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined that the Senate bill would only stem the flow of illegal immigration by 25 percent.  It is clear that the border security measures contained in S. 744 are nowhere near acceptable.  

"During debate on the Senate bill, I co-sponsored an amendment by my colleague from Texas, Senator John Cornyn, which would have made any legal status contingent on specific, quantifiable benchmarks of 100 percent surveillance and a 90 percent rate of apprehension.  I was disappointed to see this amendment denied an up-or-down vote.  Although other alternatives did add improvements for increasing border enforcement measures, I could not support legislation that doesn't ensure results.   The border must be secured, and it is vital that we meet this requirement before implementing any other portions of our immigration policy. 

"Congress must not only cut off the flow of illegal entries, but also stop the rising problem of visa overstays.  These legal, temporary immigrants never leave the country on the required departure date, and often remain for years due to the lack of exit accountability.  As a result, visa overstays account for an estimated 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.  An effective immigration policy must also ramp up interior enforcement, not only to ensure fairness for U.S. workers, but to establish a system that protects the human rights and safety of everyone within our borders.  My colleague from Louisiana, Senator David Vitter, offered an amendment to require full implementation of a biometric system at all land, sea and air ports for all entering and exiting foreign visitors.  Current law only requires fingerprints and photo identification upon arrival at a U.S. airport.  Shockingly, we have yet to implement the type of biometric exit system contained in Senator Vitter's amendment, despite the recommendations of both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the 9/11 Commission.  The Majority Leader also refused a vote on this amendment, and S. 744 completely dismisses the need for interior enforcement by retaining the current lax system."  "This is yet another reason why I could not support the bill," Crapo added.

"I am also very concerned about the lack of privacy measures to protect Americans from a national ID system.  Recent revelations about the extent and breadth of government surveillance have caused many Idahoans to question the federal government's continued erosion of privacy rights.  S. 744's federal mandate to implement E-Verify would result in a national, searchable database of vital biographic information and photographs of every American, similar to a national ID system.  Without proper controls, E-Verify could be utilized in any situation where an ID check is currently required, including the airport, a gun shop or voting booth.  Unless otherwise directed, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have the ability to maintain a database of photos provided by participating state agencies, essentially moving down the path toward a national ID system.  For this reason, I co-sponsored an amendment led by Senator Jon Tester from Montana.  The amendment, which also never received a vote, would have prohibited DHS from keeping these photos on record.

"Finally, I have consistently maintained that no person who breaks the law and enters the U.S. illegally should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct.   This is unfair both to American citizens and to those entering through legal channels.   However, the Senate bill would allow anyone granted a legal status to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for previous years in which they were not legally authorized to work in the U.S.  My colleagues and I on the Senate Finance Committee have long tried to reform this credit, which allows the IRS to issue a refund of approximately $6,000 to an illegal worker issued an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).  In Fiscal Year 2012 alone, these cash payments exceeded $52 billion.  Further, the GAO has estimated that roughly a quarter of all EITCs are issued improperly.  Our debt crisis is an existential threat to the future of the United States.  We cannot afford to continue issuing this credit to illegal immigrants, and without EITC reform I could not support the bill.

"At the core of the national character of the United States stand two principles: One, we are a nation of immigrants; within our borders every culture and ethnicity in the world is represented.  Almost all who live here can easily trace their ancestry to a foreign country.  Two, we are a peace-loving, compassionate, law-abiding society.  The United States, more than any other country, has a stable political and economic system because we respect the rule of law that maintains the peace and prosperity we enjoy.  As a U.S. Senator, I have pledged to advocate for what is best for both Idahoans and our nation.  The Senate bill is not in that interest.  We must not forget the lessons of the 1986 bill and make the same mistakes."

S. 744 was passed by the Senate on a vote of 68-32.