Rethinking Immigration Reform
One of the great honors that I have as a member of Congress is nominating young people to our nation’s military academies. Having served in both the U.S. Army and the Marines, I’m continually impressed by the many bright and talented students seeking to serve as our nation’s next generation of military leaders.
The story of one young student in Aurora is one I will never forget. Monica Carreta wanted to go to the U.S. Naval Academy. She had just graduated at the top of her class from Aurora Hinkley High School and had all of the right attributes for a competitive application. There was just one problem. Monica is not a U.S. citizen because her parents had brought her from Mexico when she was just a year old. Monica grew up here, went to school here, and because the United States is the only country she has ever known, considers herself a loyal and patriotic American.
She did not end up applying to the Naval Academy through my office.
I strongly believe that Monica, and all of the young people like her, should be treated differently than the adults who knowingly violated our immigration laws. This is why I’ve supported, and will continue to support, legislation, like H.R. 5533, the “Recognizing American Children Act” that I co-sponsored last summer, that gives young people, like Monica, a path to becoming a legal permanent resident based on their work history, education, or through military service. On Thursday I became a cosponsor on the re-introduced Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act, a House resolution that would provide childhood arrivals like Monica a three year extension under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to live and work legally in the U.S.
For the adults, who knowingly broke the law, I propose, a brief window where those illegally in the country can come out of the shadows, pay a fine, undergo a criminal background check, and receive a legal status akin to a renewable work visa thus removing the fear of deportation and the breakup of families.
After this window elapses the United States must replace current immigration laws with a much tougher set of laws and enhanced border security in such a way that it sends a clear message that we are serious about ending illegal immigration. We can do that by adopting a policy of “zero” tolerance. Under current law, unlawful presence in the United States is not a crime and is only subject to civil penalties.
Currently, when illegal immigrants are caught they are not detained, unless they are in violation of a criminal law. These individuals are simply given a summons to appear at a hearing at a later date, which is often ignored. Being unlawfully in the United States should be a criminal offense for which the offending adult is detained and deported.
I strongly disagree with a “special” path to citizenship, for those adults who knowingly broke U.S. immigration laws. This is what the 2013 Senate bill 744 known as “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” would have allowed. This approach would be unfair to everyone who followed the law and waited in line to legally come to the United States.
Another critical aspect in rethinking immigration reform, involves our workforce. The Pew Research Center recently published a study that showed that there are an estimated 8 million illegal workers in the United States. In Colorado alone, Pew found that the number of illegal workers was consistent with the national average of 4.9 percent. This translates to approximately 140,000 illegal workers out of a total of 2.8 million workforce in the State.
There is no question that a key part of fixing our broken immigration system is a requirement mandating all employers use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of applicants and current employees. We must also provide stiff penalties for employers who fail to comply.
I am optimistic that we can fix our broken immigration system by securing our borders, enacting tougher laws and strict enforcement, all while still showing compassion by keeping families together. In other words, we need to rethink immigration reform in the 21st Century. U.S.
Rep. Mike Coffman is a Republican who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District
Original article appeared here: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/01/14/rethinking-immigration-reform/