The United States is in a jobs crisis, but what may seem like dark horizons ahead (with unemployment at 9.7 percent nationally and 10.1 percent in San Diego), we should take comfort that we already have the tools to put Americans back to work. What is that tool? Immigration reform. The question is, Do we have the will to reform our immigration policies without rewarding criminal activity?
Many remember that, in 2007, Congress attempted to pass an amnesty bill for all illegal immigrants in the United States. The American people’s response? Yes to immigration reform, no to amnesty. It was the people who spoke loudly enough to kill amnesty in 2007, and they’ll do it again in 2010.
To pass real immigration reform, we must address the root cause of illegal immigration — illegal employers who exploit cheap and illegal labor — and leave the extremist view of amnesty off the table.
In order for Congress to find a solution, we must first find common ground. The Immigration Reform Caucus believes it doesn’t matter where you were born, in Encinitas, California or Ensenada, Mexico — everyone deserves a basic level of respect and an equal level of human dignity. Only from this perspective — of human dignity — can we move forward and hopefully fix our broken immigration system.
Human dignity creates a desire for a better life, and human respect makes us want to create a better future for our children. Unfortunately, there are people who prey upon these desires, and some of those people are Americans who offer low-paying jobs to illegal immigrants. These Americans exploit cheap labor and fuel the illegal immigration problem in the United States. While it is criminal to cross our border illegally, it is also criminal to exploit human beings for cheap unregulated labor.
The central question in immigration reform now becomes how best to address illegal employers. The solution? The federal E-Verify program. The program checks the legal ability of an employee to work in the United States. It can tell if someone is an American citizen or, if not, that the individual in question has the legal status to work in our country through such programs as our various work visas or other legal-to-work status. The E-Verify program has a 99 percent accuracy rate, which is good for any corporate program, but unheard of for a government program. It works.
The E-Verify program, and the Real I.D. foundation it is built on, must become a ubiquitous part of American employment. This is the only way to verify legal employees and, at the same time, the best way to identify employers who exploit illegal labor. When we shut down those who knowingly exploit others as cheap labor, we will have finally begun to address the root of the illegal immigration issue. As an added benefit, forcing employers to give jobs to American citizens and legal-to-work immigrants will cut down on unemployment.
While American employers must be one target of immigration reform, the other target is anyone who crosses our border and harms our families or loved ones through drugs, violent crime or any other infraction of the law. These criminals have no place in America. I stand with America’s law enforcement communities to do everything we can to eradicate these predators from every corner of our lives.
America is the land of opportunity, thus the reason we are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of legal immigrants who have gone through the legal process of becoming citizens. Those who are here illegally disrespect every person who became an American through legal means, and further, they disrespect their own families when they put their husbands, wives and children at risk of being separated through detention and deportation.
As we move forward on immigration reform or on a job creation package, I challenge my colleagues in government to address the real root of the problem — the illegal exploitation of labor — before addressing the symptoms.
Congressman Bilbray is the Chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill prior to being published in San Diego Rostra.