McCain: Immigration reform 'difficult, but achievable'
U.S. Sen. John McCain delivered the following statement Monday on the bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform released today with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ):
The introduction of these principles is the first step in what will be a very difficult, but achievable, reform to our immigration system.
No one here needs reminding that the last major attempt at immigration reform was over six years ago. Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system, and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally.
I am the first to admit that the security situation along the Southwest border is not perfect. There remain several areas, particularly in Arizona, where people's homes are being invaded, where drug smugglers are crossing property every night. These citizens deserve the same level of security that all of us standing here have. But there is no question there has been a significant reduction in illegal crossings over the past five years. Apprehensions of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol have dropped 70 percent from 2005 to 2012 – from 1,189,075 down to 340,252. But as we all acknowledge, the work is not yet complete.
Greater focus needs to be paid to drug traffickers and criminals that cross the border. Arizona continues to be a major smuggling corridor and distribution hub for drug trafficking organizations. According to the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, 36 percent of marijuana seizures along the Southwest border happen in Arizona. Often, scouts and spotters employed by drug cartels are used to assist backpackers hauling drugs through the Western Desert.
To combat this, we need to continue to invest in UAVs, radar, and other proven surveillance systems that will give Border Patrol the ability to detect and apprehend all illegal entries into the United States. This is achievable and can be completed within the next few years if we truly commit to it.
After the border is secure, the next most important step to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of 1986 immigration reform is to build out a nation-wide electronic employment verification system that will end the hiring of future unauthorized workers. Coupled with increased fines on employers that knowingly hire illegal workers, I believe we will be able to effectively shut off the magnet that attracts illegal workers to the U.S.
Just as critical, we will put in place a legal worker program to provide a humane and effective system that allows immigrant workers to enter the country without seeking the aid of human traffickers or drug cartels. Any immigration legislation that passes Congress must establish practical legal channels for workers to enter the United States – whether they are high skill, low skill, or agriculture workers, so we can free up federal officials to focus on those individuals truly intending to do our nation harm through drug smuggling, people trafficking and possibly terrorism.
Providing an expedited path to citizenship for DREAMers, developing a measurement to determine when the border is truly secure, reforming our future immigration system to better meet the needs of our employers, ensuring an entry-exit system to combat visa overstays, and creating a program that makes certain U.S. agriculture has the necessary workers to maintain America's food supply, are just some of the issues that we have committed to addressing – and solving – in a bipartisan manner.
And, finally, we come to the most controversial piece of immigration reform. That is how to deal with the approximately 11 million people living in the United States outside of legal status.
What is going on now is not acceptable. In reality, what has been created is a defacto amnesty. We, the American people, have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve us food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.
I think everyone here agrees that it is not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows. Let's create a system to bring them forward, allow them to settle their debt to society and fulfill the necessary requirements to become law abiding citizens of this country. This is consistent with our countries tradition of being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
John McCain is a Republican Senator from Arizona.