The new Congressional leadership will soon have the opportunity to make good on its pledge to work for bipartisan solutions to difficult issues. The McCain-Kennedy bill (S.1033), which seeks to provide much-needed comprehensive immigration reform, would give this Congress an opportunity to prove itself.
The McCain-Kennedy bill, co-sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and others, is also supported by President Bush and a bipartisan majority in the Senate. The act would combine border security with a temporary work program that provides a path for citizenship.
Unskilled laborers residing outside the country would be able to apply for permits that allow them to work in the United States for up to three years. Undocumented immigrants already living in the country would also be given the opportunity to work if they agree to pay a $2,000 fine, pay back taxes, undergo a criminal check, learn English, and take civics lessons.
The Center for American Progress and Century Foundation found this summer that the public supports a tough, but not punitive approach to immigration enforcement, combined with fairly generous views on immigration reform to deal with the undocumented immigrants who already reside in the United States, including a path to earned citizenship. The election last week confirmed that Americans are looking for candidates from both ends of the political spectrum that will push for more comprehensive immigration reform.
There are approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States currently, and 7.2 million of those are working, making up 4.9 percent of the workforce. Border-enforcement-only approaches have proven to be costly and ineffective. The United States has tripled the number of Border Patrol officers along the Mexican border over the past 15 years, yet the undocumented population has doubled in size, the death rate of border crossings has tripled, and the per-apprehension cost has increased from $300 to $1700 in almost that same time.
It is clearly time for Congress to commit itself to more comprehensive immigration reform. The McCain-Kennedy bill could create a modern immigration system that protects our security, economy, and values. The incoming Congress should not bypass this opportunity for bipartisan cooperation on this vital issue.
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