When Clint Bolick and I published Immigration Wars in 2013, we presented a number of proposals to strengthen America’s immigration policy. Border security and the interior enforcement of immigration laws, including a greater role for states, formed key parts of this package of reforms. We emphasized that finding a practical solution to the status of the people who are here illegally today is a nonstarter if our borders are not secure against future illegal immigration.
I believe that for those already in the country, we need to put in place a rigorous path that requires individuals to pass a thorough criminal background check, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, obtain a provisional work permit and work, not receive federal government assistance, and over an extended period of time earn legal status. But any plan to address the status of illegal immigrants must be accompanied by a robust strategy to improve border security.
Securing the border is possible, but it will require Washington to move beyond divisive rhetoric. The following six proposals offer concrete steps that the federal government should take to help secure the border and enforce our immigration laws. We must transform immigration from a broken system into one that benefits every American.
1. A forward-leaning Border Patrol with the flexibility to deploy resources to meet threats.
In some cases, it takes Border Patrol agents over an hour to get to the remote and rugged areas they need to patrol. Creating more forward-operating bases maximizes agents’ time on the border by stationing them there (much like a fire station) for multiple days at a time. We also have to interdict drugs and people as close to the border as possible by using quick reaction teams that go after the threat the moment it crosses the border. An approach to border security that waits until illicit traffic is miles into the interior of the country effectively cedes sovereign U.S. territory to the cartels and smugglers. These forward-leaning Border Patrol agents should be at the front line of a multi-layered “defense in depth” where additional lines of defense increase the likelihood of detecting and apprehending illegal crossers.The Border Patrol also must have the flexibility to deploy resources as needed. The flow of illegal immigrants can and will shift over time. For example, in the mid-2000s, the Tucson, Arizona sector saw the most traffic based on the number of apprehensions; after we applied more resources, people went to less secure areas of the border, such as the Rio Grande Valley sector in South Texas. Our border security posture must be as nimble as the cartels’ ability to shift operations to a different area.
2. Use new technologies to achieve continuous surveillance of the border.
Having the ability to detect illegal crossings is necessary to secure the border. In order to apprehend a person, you first have to know when and where a crossing occurs. That is one of the biggest problems right now—we do not have enough surveillance on the border and we are being beaten without knowing it. We can leverage technology to constantly watch the border, develop intelligence, and put our agents and resources where they are most effective at preventing and apprehending illicit border crossers.Technology, such as drones, advanced sensors, and radar, can give our agents a fuller picture of the illegal activity that in turn will enable the country to better allocate resources on the border. More than that, technology can make securing the border safer for our agents who will not have to respond to false alarms. And because the cartels do extensive counter-surveillance on our agents through the use of spotters who report on the movement of the Border Patrol, we need to keep them guessing by using mobile technology.
3. Bolster border infrastructure and improve access to federal lands.
Road construction and maintenance can provide agents access to areas of the border that would otherwise go unpatrolled. New roads are needed on the border to secure access to remote and rugged terrain to interdict smugglers, and respond to the detection of illicit traffic by technology. Likewise, new boat ramps can provide Border Patrol riverine units more points to put their vessels in the water so they can patrol more effectively.As noted in Immigration Wars, fencing is a component of border security. When combined with surveillance technology and agents to detect and respond to crossings, fencing or other barriers can serve several purposes, including: (1) deterring illegal entries by making it more difficult to cross the border, (2) facilitating enforcement by increasing the time available to respond and apprehend people, and (3) steering dangerous criminals and traffickers away from populated areas, improving public safety. Sufficient funding should be provided to maintain, improve, and expand fences where appropriate (e.g., based on the terrain along the border or the proximity of populated areas).Access to federal lands is another key part of improving access to border areas. Currently, agents have to navigate byzantine environmental rules and regulations to access federal lands, which make up a large portion of the southwest border. Removing these restrictions would help untie the hands of our agents to patrol every inch of the border.
4. Require electronic verification of employment eligibility.
Many illegal immigrants come to the United States for jobs and, despite the prohibition on hiring illegal immigrants, they are hired in large numbers. If we decrease the likelihood of being employed, crossing the border will be less rewarding. However, the current I-9 system does not effectively prevent the hiring of illegal workers. We need a strong E-Verify system to ensure that American businesses are not hiring illegal immigrants. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. Employers should not be penalized if they use E-Verify in good faith and receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation. Identity theft protections are also necessary. Finally, with an improved E-Verify, the government must enforce penalties for violations.
5. Identify and send home the people who are entering the United States and overstaying their visas or otherwise violating the terms of their admission.
In its widely-cited 2006 review, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that nearly half of all illegal immigrants living in the United States entered the country legally through a port of entry such as an airport and overstayed their visas. While we need to find a practical solution to the status of people who are here illegally today, as we secure the border going forward, we also need to identify and send home the people who enter the country legally but overstay their visas or otherwise violate the terms of their admission.Unfortunately, without a system in place to track adequately who has actually left the country, it is difficult to know who these individuals are. A biometric exit system must be rapidly implemented so that immigration and national security officials know with certainty who is, and is not, in this country.We also need to increase federal resources dedicated to overstay enforcement. In FY 2012, the federal agency that investigates overstay cases, among other activities, spent less than 2 percent of their time on these cases.Furthermore, we need to create intergovernmental task forces to locate and apprehend overstays, especially those who present public safety risks. With proper training and supervision, state and local police could augment federal agents because they know their communities and have more boots on the ground.
6. Crack down on sanctuary cities that undermine efforts to enforce immigration laws.
We should withhold federal law enforcement funds for cities that undermine federal immigration laws and make sure we detain and deport illegal immigrants who are serious criminals. We should also expand federal partnerships that train state and local police to help enforce immigration laws, particularly in jails and prisons. When I was Governor of Florida, the state was a trailblazer in working with the federal government to enforce immigration laws. In 2002, Florida signed the first agreement with the federal government under the Section 287(g) program, which trains state and local police to help enforce immigration laws.
These six proposals, when combined with a rigorous path to earned legal status, would realistically and honestly address the status of the 11 million people here illegally today and protect against future illegal immigration. While passions run high on this issue, there is no rational plan to deport millions of people that the American people would support. It would disrupt communities and families and could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. The policies I am advocating can ultimately receive bipartisan support in Congress and become law. President Obama has had six-and-a-half years to address our broken immigration system. Instead of leading the nation towards consensus, he has divided the country. One has to ask whether he is more interested in providing a wedge issue for his party than offering a solution for the country. There should be no doubt where I stand. I am committed to addressing the problem of illegal immigration in a comprehensive fashion so we can respond to the legitimate concerns of the American people and build stronger support for legal immigration, which if done properly can be a catalyst to bring us to strong, sustained economic growth that will benefit every American.