If there’s one thing I’ve learned since being elected to Congress, it’s that Washington doesn’t do big well. Just look at what we’re seeing now with Obamacare. Bills that are thousands of pages long are difficult to understand, even for experts, and often come with unintended consequences.
Unfortunately, the same is true for the Senate immigration bill. According to a recent survey conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, the majority of Americans say they want the House to break down the 1,200-page Senate bill into separate votes, and Americans are equally split on whether they support the bill.
Since the immigration debate began in Washington, I’ve worked to understand what First District residents think the solutions are. I’ve held a number of town hall meetings, both in-person and over the telephone, reached out on social media to solicit feedback and listened to the comments from numerous of East Tennesseans on all sides of the issue. And I can tell you this — there is widespread concern about the Senate bill, particularly with respect to the bill’s provisions that put immigrants who came here illegally on a path to citizenship. I share that concern.
The problem of illegal immigration has gone on too long. I believe any immigration- reform proposals must begin with verifiable border security and improved visa monitoring before we address the approximately 11 million immigrants who are in our country illegally.
It’s long past time for the federal government to ensure our borders are secure, our laws are written in a commonsense way that encourages legal immigration and those that break our laws don’t fall through the cracks or worse, get rewarded for doing so.
A report from the Government Accountability Office, released June 27, shows that in fiscal year 2012, border arrests increased by 30,000, totaling roughly 357,000. But it also shows that same year 129 bodies of migrants were found in Brooks County, Texas. And in Arizona, 179 human remains were found. Most of these men and women are snuck into the country by smugglers and then abandoned to weather high temperatures and rough terrain.
These tragic stories are not only proof our borders are not secure, but also that our current system is failing these men and women. When lives are at stake, we must ensure we’re doing the right thing.
Besides verifiable border security, I believe we must have a system in place to track those who come to this country legally. About 40 percent of the 11 million illegal immigrants came to the United States legally, and then overstayed their visas. We must closely monitor the people we allow to come in on student or work visas to ensure they either maintain their legal status or leave the country when their visas have expired.
With respect to how our country deals with those immigrants who are here illegally, my question is what will we do with immigrants who come here illegally in the future? Are we as a country going to start sending these individuals back home? Because if the answer to that question is no, we will have sent them a pretty strong signal that if they wait here long enough, eventually they will be granted the right to become U.S. citizens.
There are many other things to consider when looking at immigration reform, but these are a few of my thoughts and concerns. As you may know, House Speaker John Boehner has promised the House will take its own approach to reform instead of the flawed Senate bill. Rest assured I will continue to solicit input from East Tennesseans and will not support any proposal that would compromise our principles.
Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe represents Tennessee’s 1st District.