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Congress should act soon on immigration reform

Johnson City Press • Nov 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM

The election of Donald Trump as president promises to at last generate a serious debate on immigration in the Republican-controlled Congress. And campaign rhetoric aside, that debate is likely to include more than just talk of building a border wall and mass deportation.

Without a reform of our immigration laws, the 12 million people who are estimated to be living in this country illegally will continue to be pushed to the edge of society, marginalized and perhaps even preyed upon by unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage of the inaction in Washington.

The truth is, the federal government can’t deport every illegal resident in this country — that is a logistical and financial impossibility. Instead, what is needed is a sound and practical approach to immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate has stepped up to the challenge in recent years, but the House has refused to act on the legislation. Tennessee’s two Republican senators were among a number of members who backed a bill that would have dramatically reformed this country’s immigration laws.

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker also played crucial roles in crafting key compromises on the legislation. We hope they will continue with those efforts under the Trump presidency.

Congress must also address problems with E-Verify, a federal identity database to help businesses determine the legal status of employees. E-Verify is currently a free service offered on the internet. Employers can access the service at uscis.gov.

Businesses in Tennessee that knowingly hire illegal immigrants are already subject to stiffer state penalties. Business owners say it is not always easy to detect the fake documents used by some illegal immigrants. This is where a more streamlined and efficient federal database to identify legal workers is needed for employers, who are now facing increased penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

Unfortunately, E-Verify has been very lacking in that regard. Reports issued by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office in recent years have noted the federal database of guest workers provides little help for state employers who wish to verify the legal status of immigrants.

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