October 21, 2005

Commentary:

Bi-partisan Immigration Bill is Key to Helping Our Community

By Yvette Lopez-Cooper

Late last month, federal agents arrested the so-called “FedEx bandit” as he attempted to enter the United States using phony identification. After evading detection for two years, Farhad Farhbaksh is alleged to have robbed more than 40 banks in Southern California using a Federal Express envelope as a distraction during his crimes.

According to federal authorities, Farhbaksh attempted to cross into the U.S. through the San Ysidro border with the stolen identity of a deceased U.S. resident. Although he was eventually apprehended, authorities say the “Fedex bandit” traveled back and forth to Mexico with the stolen money. This is precisely the kind of illegal activity which the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005, (S.1033/H.R. 2330), now before Congress, seeks to address. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) want improved procedures to detect identity thieves, robbers and other criminals otherwise eluding detection at our ports of entry.

This proposed law is an important step toward fixing a weak spot in our nation’s borders and enhancing our national security. The McCain-Kennedy bill would create a system for information sharing among international, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Historically, the U.S. government has focused on controlling its borders by spending billions of dollars to hire Border Patrol agents, install border fences, and utilize surveillance technology. The McCain-Kennedy law would add another level of protection by creating a Border Security Committee to advise the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding border security. Additionally, the Secretary of State would create a framework for open communication and coordination among the three governments of North America. Finally, U.S. legislators are starting to acknowledge that cross-border communication is a first line of defense against illegal immigration by criminals, both north and south of us.

The McCain-Kennedy bill also recognizes the practical realities of long-term undocumented workers living in the U.S. Earlier this year, a study by the Center for American Progress found that the cost of a potential mass deportation of undocumented immigrants would reach $206 billion, a figure that exceeds the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security. But, this “send-them-all-home” approach fails to reflect our country’s economic reality. Mass deportations would only create irreparable harm to everyone – immigrant workers, their U.S.-based families, the U.S. firms that employ them, and government revenues from taxation.

The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act starts where others laws have fallen short and provides undocumented workers with the opportunity to earn their way to legal status by paying taxes, learning English and demonstrating their commitment to American values. Other proposed immigration reform bills have failed to provide common sense procedures toward legal status for people who have lived in the U.S. for decades, purchased homes, raised U.S. citizen children, contributed to the well-being of this country and who themselves yearn to become U.S. citizens. It is no surprise that these previous legislative responses to our nation’s vast immigration problems have faltered.

The bill would establish an essential worker program that would match a willing employer with a willing worker. The worker’s visa would be valid for three years and may lead to permanent residency and citizenship. The bi-partisan bill further requires all applicants undergo criminal and security background checks and other biometric tests that will safeguard the country’s national security.

While the innovative and pragmatic the McCain-Kennedy bill creates tough enforcement measures and controls the flow of people, the bill also includes strict employer penalties, providing for a 400,000-worker visa cap and requiring the use of machine-readable and tamper-resistant immigration documents. It is little wonder that the bill is supported across party lines.

The FedEx bandit may have been discovered earlier had there been better cross-border communication with Mexican and other authorities. There is no doubt that there will be more bandits seeking to harm the U.S. However, creating a framework to share intelligence, detect fake documents and catch the bad guys will help us apprehend them earlier rather than later. The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act is a good start to repair our dysfunctional immigration system. It deters criminals and acknowledges that the U.S. cannot continue with an underground world of invisible people – the millions of undocumented workers around the United States. The comprehensive immigration reform bill is an enlightened move toward a fairer and more constructive immigration policy for the country and its people.

Lopez-Cooper practices immigration law in San Diego, California.

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