The issue of illegal immigration is wrought with strong emotions and political divisiveness - no one understands this more than the citizens of Arizona. Yet, legal immigration has also played an undeniably important role in the shaping of our nation's history and culture; many of us owe our present American identity to immigrants from a not-so-distant ancestry. I see no reason for tension between our heritage of welcoming immigrants and our bedrock commitment to upholding the rule of law.
How can we begin to prioritize lasting solutions?
It is trite to say (because there is such general agreement) that we must first gain control of our borders. Although progress has been made in recent years (due largely to congressionally mandated increases in border security personnel and infrastructure), there continue to be hundreds of thousands of individuals who illegally cross our borders or overstay their visas every year. Arizona has long borne the brunt of this problem, with widespread consequences felt by our state.
Unfortunately, there has been a lack of presidential leadership dedicated to improving the enforcement of existing immigration laws. The Obama Administration has repeatedly declined to effectively deploy the tactical resources and enforcement programs necessary to get our borders under control. At the same time, it argues that insufficient funding forces it to prioritize immigration enforcement efforts toward only the most serious criminals, thus ignoring the vast majority of the illegal immigrant population. The most glaring example of the administration's disregard for the law occurred when President Obama issued a unilateral decision to halt to the deportation of a large class of individuals - in this case, young illegal immigrants. Simply because the president disagrees with existing law does not mean he can write his own law.
Indeed, the president's election-year gimmick has actually undermined thoughtful legislative efforts to resolve the status of many young people who, through no fault of their own, were brought to this country illegally by their parents.
But the administration has gone far beyond just ignoring the law; it is now actively preventing states like Arizona from helping to enforce immigration laws designed to fill gaps in federal enforcement. Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in June that states may assist with certain areas of immigration enforcement, the administration immediately moved to cease cooperative efforts with Arizona's state and local law authorities to apprehend illegal immigrants - a brazen political "penalty" for daring to disagree with the Obama Administration.
Throughout my career, I have worked to develop effective federal immigration policies. For example, last year Senator McCain and I introduced the Border Security Enforcement Act (S. 803), a 10-point plan to combat illegal immigration, drug and alien smuggling, and violent activity along the border. Another important tool I have supported is E-Verify, a computer-based program that allows businesses to verify whether someone is eligible to work in the U.S.
Both of these measures, of course, require political consensus to implement - and the president's actions have made that difficult to achieve. That's unfortunate, because we cannot turn our attention toward addressing more comprehensive immigration challenges until we finish the first job of securing the border and enforcing immigration law. Unless the administration is willing to uphold the rule of law, any additional reforms to our nation's immigration laws cannot be taken seriously - they may simply be ignored, or not enforced at all.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl
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