Here’s the other thing that has shifted in this debate: a larger segment of the American public has embraced the need to engage this debate and arrive at a sensible solution to this problem. CAP has helped to document this shift:
- There are leaders of the law enforcement community speaking out, saying that immigration reform is vital to their ability to do their jobs keeping Americans safe.
- Faith leaders, including the National Association of Evangelicals, have announced their support for immigration reform as a moral and practical issue.
- We are seeing more business leaders and more labor leaders engaged in this debate in a constructive way than we have ever seen before.
Why DHS Needs Immigration Reform
That reality is apparent to us at DHS. Over the past year, as this Administration has pursued more effective strategies within the current laws, the picture of how exactly those laws need to be changed has become clearer than ever before.
In the past ten months, we have made tough choices, and implemented significant reforms within the current legal framework—but they are not enough to create the system that we want or that we need. If we are truly going to fix a broken system, Congress will have to act.
When it comes to immigration, I took an oath as Secretary of Homeland Security to secure the nation by enforcing the law and managing legal flows across the border. Let me be clear: to do this job as effectively as possible, DHS needs immigration reform.
Reform legislation would provide lasting and dedicated resources at our borders, and provide some critical legal tools that we don’t currently have to combat smuggling organizations.
For example, we need tougher anti-smuggling laws in dealing with the aggravated crimes smugglers commit—including assaulting law enforcement officers, endangering children, threatening relatives and abandoning people in the desert— hundreds of whom succumb to death from heat and lack of water.
We also need to update current laws that don’t cover some of the new means by which criminals conduct their business. For instance, today’s smugglers and drug traffickers often move cash through "stored value" cards, which aren’t even considered monetary instruments under the current money-smuggling laws.
In addition, we need improvements to the current law when it comes to interior and worksite enforcement. Dishonest businesses often ignore the civil fines for illegal employment now on the books because they’re so low. It’s also very difficult to prosecute these crimes as felonies because of the over-elaborate intent requirements built into the current statutes.
Moreover, some current laws covering immigration-related fraud have to be brought more in line with common sense. Right now, a corrupt immigration attorney who facilitates hundreds of immigration violations by knowingly helping aliens fraudulently seek asylum or permanent residence is treated almost the same as an alien who buys a single fake green card.
On top of this, in order to have fully effective law enforcement, we need Congress to create the legal foundation for bringing the millions of illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows, require them to register and pay all taxes they owe, and enforce the penalties that they will have to pay as part of earning legal status. Let me emphasize this: we will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows.
Making sure these people become full taxpayers and pay their fair share will both benefit our economy and make it easier to enforce the laws against unscrupulous or exploitive employers. A tough and fair pathway to earned legal status will mandate that illegal immigrants meet a number of requirements—including registering, paying a fine, passing a criminal background check, fully paying all taxes and learning English.
These are substantial requirements that will make sure this population gets right with the law. It will help fix our broken system.
"Requiring Illegal Immigrants to Register... Will Strengthen Our Economy"
While it’s important to emphasize the need for immigration reform from an enforcement perspective, the need for reform stretches far beyond those reasons. We have to make sure the immigration system works to support American families, businesses and workers.
As part of the Administration’s outreach on this issue, my Department has held stakeholder meetings with more than 1,000 people and organizations across the country. The businesses, community leaders, labor leaders, faith groups and law enforcement we’ve met with all have different stories, but they all reach the same conclusion: we need reform.
This reform will be part of the new foundation for growth, prosperity, and security that this Administration is working to create.
Our system must be strong enough to prevent illegal entry and to get criminal aliens off our streets and out of the country. But it must also be smart enough to reward the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants have always brought to America—traits that have built our nation.
Requiring illegal immigrants to register to earn legal status, as I discussed earlier, will strengthen our economy as these immigrants become full-paying taxpayers. As labor leaders have made clear to me, immigration reform will be a boon to American workers.
Think about it: unions will never achieve the best terms for workers when a large part of the workforce is illegal and operates in a shadow economy. By contrast, the status quo not only hurts American workers, it also stifles potential opportunities to grow our economy.