By Pedro Celis, Ph.D.
“Once we secure our borders and the American people are confident that we have control of the south, in particular, I believe that we will be able to have a rational national debate about what to do with the 8 million to 10 million souls that are here,” declared Congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) recently, while explaining his opposition to the guest worker program proposal endorsed by President Bush.
Yet Congressman Pence voted in favor of a law (HR 4437), approved last December by the House of Representatives, that turns those 10 million souls into criminals. It turns illegal presence in this country from a civil violation into a federal crime subject to an entirely different kind of policing and punishable by much stiffer penalties. Those 10 million people would:
• Be declared felons, barred from ever being eligible to become legal immigrants.
• Even their children would be declared felons, subject to jail time and subsequent deportation
• Any person or any organization who “assists” an individual without documentation “to reside in or remain” in the United States knowingly or with “reckless disregard” as to the individual’s legal status would be liable for criminal penalties and five years in prison.
• Church personnel who provide shelter or other basic needs assistance to an undocumented individual would also be liable.
• Property used in this act would be subject to seizure and forfeiture.
Hence, all manner of people would become criminally liable and subject to fines, property forfeiture and imprisonment: the daycare provider who cares for her neighbor’s children; the landscaper who gives a ride to his co-worker; the church program volunteer who teaches English as a second language. In essence, being a Good Samaritan could land you in jail.
State and local law enforcement are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws. State and local governments that refuse to participate would be subject to the loss of federal funding. Millions of people would now be abused and taken advantage of with the knowledge that they could not avail themselves to any of the protections offered by our laws.
All of this in the name of national security.
It is naïve to argue that this bill would increase our security while leaving the question of “what to do with the 8 or 10 millions souls” for a subsequent rational national debate.
The provisions in this bill that deal with these souls are mean-spirited and vindictive. Turning all these individuals, who are part and parcel of our communities, into criminals is detrimental to our own security.
Not that enforcement or legality are unimportant. But we need to replace illegal immigration with increased legal immigration. We need to provide avenues for honest, hard-working individuals to come or remain in our country in a way that satisfies our national security and our economic self-interest.
Whoever thinks that passing a law like HR 4437 will solve our illegal immigration problem is sticking his head in the sand. It will not make these 10 million souls disappear.
There is a better way to get control of our borders. A way that recognizes both the importance of enforcing the rule of law and the contributions that immigrants bring to our society and economy. That is the comprehensive immigration reform approach being discussed now in the Senate.
Under the leadership of Senator Allen Specter, the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been crafting a more realistic legislation that will send to the full Senate this week. That legislation addresses some of the most glaring deficiencies of HR 4437. Namely:
1. It provides avenues to increase legal immigration.
2. It deals more realistically with the 10 million undocumented souls by allowing them to register, receive background checks, and work while they apply for permanent legal immigration. It does so in a way that rejects amnesty, where someone who has violated the law would have an advantage in the process of becoming a legal immigrant over someone who did not.
3. It removes most of the criminalization provisions against Good Samaritans.
We agree with President Bush statement at the most recent state of the union that: “Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our Nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty … allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally … and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.”
Dr. Pedro Celis is a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond Washington and the National Chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.