Republican state senator from Carmel, Ind., who has helped author state immigration measures
Q. What do you see as the merits and shortcomings of the proposed reform?
A. Ronald Reagan in all complexity was persuaded by congressional leaders to support amnesty in 1986 in exchange for stronger employer sanctions and tougher border security. He told the American people it would be a one-time amnesty. Fast forward 27 years and it is no wonder many Americans are frustrated as they watch the re-run of this policy debate.
Secure the borders. Stronger sanctions on employers. Pay a fine and you go to the back of the line. In 1986 we called it what it was: amnesty. Now we have sanitized our language and call it a "path to citizenship." We prefer the word "undocumented" to illegal alien notwithstanding the fact it is a legal term enshrined in federal code.
We need to study history and understand the original intent of the founders and our ultimate written law, the U.S. Constitution. Nowhere in the document will you find the word immigration. The law talks about naturalization or the conferring of citizenship. The judicial branch has gotten this wrong oftentimes, blurring the distinction between lawful and unlawful immigration. This error has cost our nation dearly.
Here at the state level, we asked former Gov. Mitch Daniels to send a bill to Congress to cover our annual cost of $131 million directly caused by illegal immigration in Indiana alone. Others estimate this cost to be much higher.
As long as we put profit and politics above principle, this issue will never be resolved. Perhaps we should try that which has never been tried, enforcement of the law. When we allow the importation of Third World conditions and labor standards to undercut the world of our own citizens, we have a problem. When we have a court that rules that all children, whether in the United States legally or not, must be allowed to attend school at taxpayer expense, we have a problem.
Our nation stands at the precipice of exponential financial ruin and there are many bipartisan contributors to this. We need to be compassionate, just and fair, but we should stand for the Rule of Law and hold those accountable who violate it. That is the straight truth and I think Ronald Reagan would have the integrity with the benefit of history to tell us so.
RODOLFO MONTERROSA JR.
Board president for La Casa de Amistad and immigration attorney
Q. How do you see the proposed reforms helping or hurting U.S. immigrants?
A. At the heart of the immigration reform debate is exactly what my immigrant parents sought in this great country called the United States of America. They sought to fulfill their promise of the American dream. Whether this country is able to move forward with immigration reform will be a testament to our ability to keep that promise.
It is estimated that more than 11 million individuals are in the country without legal status. What the general public sometimes fails to realize is not all of those 11 million reside in the United States without some form of immigration paperwork filed on their behalves. In other words, when people ask, "why don't they do things the right way" or "why don't they wait in line," the answer actually is that they are.
Our immigration system is broken because it does not allow for a realistic avenue for individuals to come to this country legally. A hopeful immigrant may have a family member who is a U. S. citizen or legal permanent resident, may have a job waiting for him or her or may actually be a highly skilled worker and still have to wait years in order to obtain legal status. Added to the pressure is the fact that some were brought here by their parents as children through no fault of their own (popularly called DREAMers), with no hope of legalization, when all their lives they mistakenly believed they were U.S. citizens.
The most optimistic portion of S. 744, in my opinion, is the creation of a new immigration status called Registered Provisional Immigrant. An RPI would indeed benefit many of the millions previously mentioned and would afford an opportunity to allow people to step out of the shadows and be accounted for. We cannot ignore that this will in turn boost our economy in that individuals with RPI status will have to pay taxes, contribute to the Social Security fund and be law-abiding citizens. But this is not a free pass. To be eligible for RPI status, an immigrant will need to prove continuous physical presence, pay all back taxes, pay a fee and relatively hefty fines and be free of any serious criminal history (i.e. no more than three misdemeanors and no felonies whatsoever).
DREAMers -- youth who came here at a young age, went to high school and sought to advance their careers either through college or the military -- would be afforded an opportunity to reach RPI status sooner than others, if they have college degrees or served in the military.
If we are to keep our promise of the American dream, we must follow through with immigration reform. People will soon realize that what will be good for qualified immigrant-hopefuls will be great for this country's economic and social health.
Faculty Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame
Q. Will the immigration reform now before Congress deal realistically with potential future flows of immigrants?
A. The current proposal in the Senate has tried to strike a balance: recognizing that it is not just the supply of immigrants, it is also the demand that matters.
Accordingly, the proposed law would further secure the border, mandate the use of the E-Verify system and crack down on employers. However, it would also improve legal immigration, increase certain types of professional visas and regularize the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country.
Perhaps more importantly in this respect is that the bill would create a new nonimmigrant classification known as the W Visa. The W Visa is designed for low-skill workers who would earn the higher of either the prevailing local wages paid to Americans or for the industry they're working in, as determined by the U.S. Labor Department.
Eventually the new W Visa program would be capped at a maximum of 200,000 workers per year, but the number of visas would fluctuate, depending on unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand and other data collected by a new federal bureau.
The workers could move from employer to employer as long as both the position and the employer were "registered." They also would eventually be able to petition for permanent resident status. The new program would fill needs employers now say they have that are not currently met by U.S. immigration programs. Most industries don't have a good way to hire a steady supply of foreign workers because there is only one small temporary visa program for low-wage non-agricultural workers that is only supposed to be used for seasonal or temporary jobs.
For most Americans it is just common sense to place the blame for the levels of undocumented migration on the immigrants themselves. After all, they are the ones who choose to migrate. But this phenomenon cannot really be explained or understood without taking into account how symbiotic -- and for how long -- the relationship between American employers and these immigrant workers has been, and how it was abetted to a large degree by the U.S. government and political systems from its beginnings in the 1880s.
With the current Senate bill, we can all take the mutual responsibility the immigration conundrum has been lacking: the employers hiring documented workers, the immigrants acquiring visas and the government finally providing a reasonable number of visas to meet the demand for workers.
THE REV. DANIEL G. GROODY, C.S.C.
Associate professor of theology and director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture, University of Notre Dame
Q. How does the portion of the reform proposal that deals with students serve both these young people and the country?
A. Although popular opinion often suggests otherwise, immigrants have been critical to U.S. leadership in a competitive global economy. Many leading companies in the U.S., such as Intel, Sun Microsystems, eBay, Yahoo! and Google were started by immigrants and in the process have created thousands of jobs. Over the past two decades, 25 percent of all U.S. public companies backed by venture capital were started by immigrants.
Even so, many immigrants who are here now, particularly the undocumented, are prevented from developing their potential precisely because they cannot gain access to the higher education system. In the process, everybody loses.
Over the years, various proposals of the DREAM ACT legislation have sought to open such access. But because none has yet passed, more than a few high school valedictorians have been denied access to college simply because their legal status has closed the doors of higher education to them.
The current bill could rectify this injustice while invigorating an economy which needs a steady supply of well-educated talent. Because it has no "age-cap," it will help people of all ages advance through education. Any DREAMers who want to contribute to their communities through education or military service can move forward and reasonably expect to achieve legal residency within five years, rather than the 10-year minimum through other avenues.
Education is the key not only to individual development but to the advancement of an economy, a country and a culture as well. But opening these doors to more immigrants would only be the beginning of immigration reform. The deeper reform lies within the hearts of minds of all us. Until we see immigrants as gift and not threat, and brother and sister rather than alien and intruder, we are still a long way off from a just and humane immigration solution.
Chair of Civil Rights for Immigrants, an affiliate of the Gamaliel nonpartisan faith network
Q. Would the fees of $1,000 for provisional residency and another $1,000 for permanent residency application be an obstacle to participation for the families you work with?
A. What's the first offense for a DUI in Indiana? $500. What is the fine for driving without insurance? $150. Littering? It will cost you $700. Fishing without a license at Potato Creek State Park? $150.
In a just society, the punishment must fit the infraction and provide a means for redemption.
While not knowing the real cost for the process of legalization -- the bureaucracy and the background checks -- we need to set a cost that bites, but does not irreparably harm the families of those who have come here. For many offenses judges have discretion in administering fines, for example, "not to exceed $2,000." Perhaps, the wisdom in this case would be to provide discretion for families for whom such a fine would be an extreme hardship. Rather than cause a family to spiral deeper into debt, wisdom and justice would urge that a reduction or a waiver might be in order.
The reality is that most undocumented people would pay almost anything to get legalized. At the same time, a family thrust deeper into poverty as a consequence of this fine could do more harm than good. Let us choose to care for families; let us choose to do the good.
Q. Does the proposal do enough to keep families together?
A. It does a lot -- but the categories for siblings and adult married children need to make more happen. Immigrant families often are engaged in small business with extended families and this should be acknowledged through visas, etc.
Michigan state senator, R-Berrien Springs, and fruit farmer
Q. What is your assessment of the proposed provisions regarding agricultural workers?
A. From the perspective of local agriculture, there are several things to like in the immigration proposal.
First of all, for workers who are already here, there is a path to get authorization to stay and to work toward future citizenship.
Second, through the visa proposals, there is an opportunity to promote a future flow of new agricultural workers.
Third, there is tighter border control. These are all seen as beneficial to agriculture.
The E-Verify system is not necessarily one that growers look forward to using, but is something that can be accepted in order to realize the benefits of the larger package.
We must realize that fruit and vegetable consumption is growing in the United States and worldwide. It is very beneficial in many ways if we can promote farming opportunities in Michigan for fruits and vegetables, rather than seeing this industry move to other countries. Even at current growing levels, growers in Michigan are starting to face a shortage of workers to help raise and harvest their crops. Farming is a risky enough business without the added worry of not having workers to harvest a crop that has been planted and cared for during the growing season.
An improving economy in Mexico, along with uncertainty regarding the legality of opportunities in the United States give workers reasons not to come here. The immigration bill should help assure a stable worker supply for local farmers by giving pathways for current and future workers to come to Michigan, and if they wish, to pursue full citizenship.
State director of the Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement
Q. Is the pro-posal for tightening the border adequate?
A. Senate Bill 744 is full of promises just like the 1986 amnesty bill. There is wording in this bill that 180 days after enactment of S. 744 there needs to be an announcement of a plan to secure our southern border and build a fence. At that point, with just a plan to start securing our southern border, the Registered Provisional Immigrant amnesty would begin. Without a secure border or more fencing even being built, most illegals will be safe from being deported.
During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, amendments proposed to toughen the enforcement measures of the bill were defeated. The actions of these senators should prove they take the amnesty over security as their No. 1 priority. S. 744, if passed as written, would be disastrous for national security. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would then start handing out identity documents to millions of those here illegally. The USCIS will be too overwhelmed and understaffed to check the backgrounds of those applying for RPI and this is where the national security concerns begin. Ken Palinkas, president of the union representing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which must process immigrant applications, has come out against S. 744.
Palinkas stated, "The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications ... USCIS has been turned into an 'approval machine'."
Judging from past promises of immigration law enforcement, I have no reason to believe officials are serious about stopping illegal immigration. So is the Senate's proposal for tightening the border adequate? No! It's all about politics for these folks.