The vast majority of Americans agree that our immigration system is broken. Those attempting to come to the country legally find themselves wrapped in endless paperwork and bureaucracy and, as a result, far too many continue to arrive in the United States unauthorized. Consequently, it is estimated that more than 11 million immigrants are currently living undocumented and without legal status in the United States. Our broken immigration system is unable to efficiently and adequately serve those who seek to play by the rules, and as a result, it indirectly rewards those who break them. It is clear that our current immigration system is not working, and we deserve better.
There are deeply held views on all sides of this issue, and rightly so. We are a nation of immigrants and people continue to flock to our country in pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, the current system is failing both hardworking Americans and prospective immigrants – including those who are desperately seeking to be reunited with their families. We can no longer afford to neglect our broken immigration process. The Census Bureau assumes net immigration – meaning legal and illegal – will total 68 million immigrants by 2050. The non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies points out that these future immigrants plus their descendants will add an estimated 96 million residents to the U.S. population, accounting for three-fourths of our population growth from 2010 to 2050. A modernized and fully functioning system will maximize efficiency for all immigrants seeking to come to our country, reward those that have abided by the law and ensure that, in the future, respect for the rule of law yields the best outcome for those seeking to immigrate to America, and seek to resolve the problems that have led to the breakdown of our current immigration system. There is no doubt that an overhaul of our ineffective immigration system is long overdue and the time for a solution is now.
In order to resolve the issues of our immigration system, several areas of immigration policy must be addressed. I will continue to work toward finding common sense solutions to repair the process and implementing reforms that will prevent a future breakdown of the system. This requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses stronger security to curb illegal immigration, modernization of our immigration laws, and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population.
First, I hope that with better border protection, we will be able to stem the flow of illegal immigration and restore the rule of law. We must ensure that our law enforcement officials have access to the resources, including technology and manpower, needed to enforce currently enacted immigration laws and protect our borders to help stop the smuggling of drugs, arms, and humans.
Second, we need an employee verification system that allows employers to easily and accurately verify an employee’s legal status in a timely manner. The faulty and cumbersome verification process we currently have continues to provide incentives for the use of fraudulent documents and puts many at risk of identity theft. It is needed to not only to provide employers with a safe haven, but to ensure that illegal immigration does not undermine the status and wages of those workers who come to our country on a valid visa. To do this, an employee’s information must be safe from identity theft. Next, any system must be accurate and secure. A verification tool that is easily fabricated will not provide the assurance required that employers are not unintentionally employing illegal aliens. Lastly, a verification tool must be immediate. It can cause great disruption and difficulties in the employment process if employers and potential employees cannot get the documentation they need from the government. We must ensure that verification occurs immediately, and that employees are able to work and receive their paychecks.
In addition to securing our borders and protecting employers and U.S. citizens from identity theft with a reliable employee verification system, I believe that any reforms to immigration policies should include expanding access to visas for seasonal and temporary labor. Wisconsin, for example, relies on seasonal labor for agriculture and other industries, but due to a lack of seasonal H-2B visas, some Wisconsin businesses face annual labor shortfalls. Additionally, I believe a temporary guest worker program is one component of reform that could help us gain greater control of immigration. Providing a way to legally link employers with immigrant workers and building a streamlined, safe, and efficient visa process will provide businesses with needed workers and relieve pressure on the borders.
We must also seek to ensure that the most highly qualified foreign graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields have adequate opportunity to remain in the United States and enter the workforce here. Many of the world’s best students receive their education in America. We could boost economic growth, create jobs, increase our competitiveness, and spur innovation by making it possible for U.S. employers to more easily hire foreign graduates of American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. This way, these graduates apply their American education here in the United States, rather than take their American education to our foreign competitors. Over the past ten years, growth in STEM jobs was three times the rate as non-STEM jobs, and these occupations are projected to grow more than twice as fast through 2018. American employers have expressed concern regarding the availability of high-skilled STEM workers and have urged reform of the visa system to help them fill these empty positions. Nevertheless, in order to ensure the career prospects of graduating American STEM students are not diminished, any legislation should require employers seeking to sponsor foreign STEM graduates to first complete labor certification. Labor certification protects U.S. workers and the U.S. labor market by ensuring that foreign workers seeking immigrant visa classifications are not displacing equally qualified U.S. workers.
We must also streamline the system in a way that allows for efficiency, ensures fairness, and considers family unification, but simultaneously ensures our employers can access the labor and skilled workers needed to run their businesses. Immigration legislation must include a fair and reasonable way to address the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, of which over seven million are employed, contributing members of our economy. This includes finding a way forward for the “DREAMers” – unauthorized immigrants that came to the United States as children through no fault of their own, grew up in our country, and are now seeking to pursue an advanced degree in America or enlist in our military and become contributing adult members of our society. In addition, the current backlog for family-sponsored visas is so vast that it could take up to 11.5 years for the visa to be processed. The lengthy waiting periods for visa consideration often induce desperate family members to break the law and enter the country illegally in order to be reunified with their family members in the United States. Improving this process, expanding the work-based system, and creating a functional avenue of access will help to stem the flow of illegal immigration moving forward.
I will continue to advocate for common sense reforms to our broken system that for far too long has been failing Americans and those seeking to legally immigrate to our country to pursue the American Dream. I have long been supportive of efforts to reform our immigration policies in a comprehensive, responsible, and methodical way, with each step building on the last. Effective immigration reforms must include strong border security provisions, an enforceable guest worker program, a secure employee verification system, and fair and workable provisions to address the unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S., as well as the lengthy backlog of those waiting for their visas to be processed. In the past, I have supported initiatives that would have accomplished these goals, and I will continue to do so as my colleagues and I consider legislation in the 113th Congress.