Legislators Weigh In On Immigration
The Queens Tribune was inspired to put together this special edition because of the recent uproar regarding illegal immigrants, the measures proposed to significantly alter immigration law and the potential consequences on everybody – not just those who enter the country illegally, but those who help them, who hire them and who are their friends.
We reached out to a number of sources and resources to get their opinion on the law of the land, how it stands, how it should be altered. Since this is an open discussion, we did not require respondents to adhere strictly to the questions posed (though some did).
We figured this is an important enough issue to give the space necessary to get a discussion going, to allow the voters to see inside the heads of those who serve us and to lay blame, credit or whatever at the feet of those who deserve it. Since the House of Representatives has already passed dramatic legislation, we will allow them the floor first.
U.S. Rep Gary Ackerman
America is a nation of immigrants, a haven for peoples from around the world who are looking for a better life for themselves and their families; they help build and add strength to our country. But I have long believed that the first act of an immigrant should not be an illegal one and that whatever policy the United States pursues should not be one that rewards those who have come to the United States illegally while penalizing those who have entered our country legally and continue to play by the rules as they seek permanent legal status or citizenship.
The first step in comprehensive immigration reform is for the United States to get control of our borders. If we cannot stop the flow of undocumented aliens into the country then any other efforts at immigration reform are rendered meaningless. That means we must address the demand for documented workers in the United States that undocumented workers currently fill. A controllable and enforceable guest worker program is the way for us to allow people to come and work in the United States, without having to come here clandestinely and illegally.
Second, it is an undeniable fact that there are roughly 11 million people in the United States illegally and any attempt at immigration reform should deal fairly with their status, but any effort to change their status should recognize first that they broke the law by entering the country illegally. That recognition should include paying a fine, determining that they have and will continue to abide by the law, and learning English before being able to apply for permanent resident status or citizenship.
Third, once a guest worker program is in place and there is a clear pathway for those here illegally to attain legal status, there should be serious penalties for employers who knowingly continue to hire undocumented aliens. The incentive should be for employers to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Immigrants have brought and continue to bring inestimable richness to our country, to our economy, and vibrancy to our culture. We must remember and honor the great contributions that immigrants have made to American history, but that recognition should not reward their illegal entry into the United States. That’s the compromise.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley
When demonstrators rallying support for a fair immigration policy recently took to the streets in more than 65 cities across our country, they were calling for Congress to act. As a U.S. Representative whose district includes Queens, arguably America’s most diverse community, I not only heed that call for action, but also join them in asking my colleagues on Capitol Hill to approve comprehensive legislation that is realistic, tough and in keeping with our heritage as a nation of immigrants.
That is why I have fought for a realistic, enforceable immigration policy that strengthens our nation’s security while providing a guest worker program and an earned path to citizenship for those who have followed the rules, paid taxes, joined our country’s military and served our nation.
Like most of the country, I was greatly encouraged that these conditions for successful immigration reform could be accomplished when a legislative compromise on the Senate immigration bill seemed to be reached in that chamber. But under the Senate Republican leadership, the deal collapsed, dimming prospects of comprehensive immigration reform that accounts for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living here. This turn of events was disappointing. Without a strong, comprehensive bill being approved from the Senate, we are left with the narrow, and frankly unenforceable, measure that was passed in the House last December.
That legislation, an enforcement only bill, would brand all undocumented immigrants as felons, further pushing them into the shadows of unaccountability. And it would not stop there. Priests, churches, social workers, and other groups that provide necessary services to undocumented individuals would also be criminalized. The legislation also called for the building of a 700-mile fence on parts of the border between the United States and Mexico. This bill, which may satisfy the extreme, anti-immigrant sentiments of the right wing, essentially was nothing more than a cop out.
The real solution to the immigration challenge must include a three-pronged approach that includes a guest worker program and an earned path to citizenship, in addition to stronger borders. With these programs in place, businesses and employers that hire immigrants would do so according to adjustable annual cap on employment visas tailored to our nation’s economic needs. This would provide an adaptable means to regulate to monitor the influx of immigrants, raising the cap when additional labor is needed and lowering when it is not.
In the long run, this would actually improve national security by keeping track of the millions of undocumented individuals in our borders, making it tougher for the few individuals who intend us harm to hide. Comprehensive reform is not an amnesty program.
Undocumented individuals would have to pay a $2,000 fine and go to the end of the line of those applying for U.S. citizenship. There are stronger penalties for those who would still live outside of the law. This can only work if we first take the needed steps to document our immigrant community.
I will continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform that works and provides a workable and fair solution for all. What we do not need at the end of this process is not another immigration law on the books that cannot be enforced.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney
As we work to update our nation’s immigration policy, it is important to remember that the age-old descriptions of America as “a nation of immigrants” and “The Melting Pot” are more than tired clichés. The vast majority of us have ancestors not born of this land, and the vast majority of our ancestors faced public skepticism upon their arrivals. However, there has always been a place in America for hard-working, talented people who will make a contribution to our society.
Let there be no doubt, I firmly believe that our borders can be and must be better protected. The 9/11 Commission bill that I worked hard to pass included the addition of 10,000 border patrol agents over five years. Unbelievably, the Republican-controlled Congress has failed to provide full funding for this new personnel.
Though it is not mentioned in the current debate over illegal immigrants, I believe that our porous, neglected border with Canada badly needs vastly improved protections. After all, it has been documented that actual terrorists have already tried to enter via U.S.-Canada border, as was the case with the millennium bomber. For all we know, terrorists are still focusing on that under-guarded border.
Seeking An Income:
“To work is not a crime” is the message these immigrant protesters carried at a recent march on Manhattan’s federal buildings. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
I do not agree with the unrealistic approach to immigration reform taken by the Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate Majority Leader Frist. They focus on building fences along the border, a tactic that has proven ineffective, and their proposals treat immigrants as criminals. That is why I voted “No” on the House bill.
Instead, I support the bipartisan, levelheaded immigration reform package proposed by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy, which would achieve three vital improvements to the current system. It would firm up our border protections and crack down on those crossing the border illegally. It would give undocumented immigrants who are law-abiding, taxpaying residents in our country a path to legal status, thus breaking the culture of illegality that is such a problem. And it would update the immigration system so that needed workers can enter the United States legally, reducing demand for illegal immigrants.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks
Together with the failure of Congress to enact meaningful reform legislation, the marches and rallies of hundreds of thousands of supporters of immigrant rights in cities throughout the United States highlight the crisis in our immigration policy, particularly in regard to illegal immigrants. Some of the rhetoric and some of the proposals surrounding the debate about illegal immigration complicate the path toward bipartisan compromise and national consensus. I commend the Queens Tribune for attempting to inject balance and perspective to this issue.
Legal and illegal immigration is transforming the Sixth Congressional District into one of America’s most diverse congressional districts. We have more constituents from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh than any other congressional district in the nation. We rank second in the number of Haitians. The number of constituents who hail from Jamaica, Guyana, Mexico, and other Caribbean and Latin American countries is also growing.
The “newest New Yorkers” in my district are concerned about family stability, neighborhood safety, quality education, affordable housing and health care, religious tolerance, retaining their distinct cultural attributes while assimilating into the American mainstream. They are concerned about their youth. They worry about the influence of popular music. They don’t know what to think of the latest youth fashions. They want to start a business, buy a home, and live happily ever after. Sound familiar?
Immigrants come to New York City for the same reason that previous generations of immigrants came to the Big Apple. They come for the same reason that Blacks came here from the segregated South. They come because “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” America is still the land of opportunity. At the same time, with their industriousness, entrepreneurship, interest in the democratic process, focus on family and education, and respect for the rule of law, the newest New Yorkers contribute to the economic and civic revitalization of the Sixth Congressional District, the borough, and the city.
In regard to illegal immigration, Congress and the country need to put inflammatory rhetoric and inflamed partisanship aside. Basically, there are three options: round up and deport an estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants; leave things as they are; increase border enforcement and security while creating a clear path to legalization and citizenship for those who are here illegally.
The first option is impractical and impossible. How would we round up 11-12 million people? Who would do it? How would we identify who is here illegally? Will we resort to racial or ethnic profiling? Where would they be kept pending deportation? How will they be fed? Who is going pay for their upkeep? What will happen to the children who were born here and therefore are American citizens?
The second option of doing nothing to stem illegal immigration or alter illogical immigration quotas is not an option.
The third option involves enhancing border security — and not with a fence 700 miles long, as the legislation the House passed last December mandates. Those who have broken our immigration laws should be punished. Under the proposed Senate compromise, illegal immigrants would have to pay a substantial fine, pass a background check, and pay back taxes before they could gain legal status and citizenship.
I voted against the House measure because it criminalized illegal immigrants, made assisting illegal immigrants a felony, was aimed almost exclusively at immigrants crossing our southern border, and failed to create options for the estimated 11-12 million immigrants who presently live and work in the United States illegally to achieve legal status. President Bush rejects this approach. His position, which includes a guest worker program advocated by much of the business community, is closer to McCain-Kennedy compromise that most Democrats support.
It is said that illegal immigrants do work that Americans won’t do. I don’t believe that. Americans don’t want to work for the wages that many employers get away with paying illegal immigrants. Strict enforcement of wage and occupational health and workplace safety laws, and raising the federal minimum wage would mitigate the impact of immigration on wages and working conditions. This would also help level the playing field for all workers competing for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner
We should do everything possible to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country. But the bill passed in the House just said let’s build higher fences and make felons out of all those that are illegal, and anyone that helps them. It doesn’t solve the problem of the 10 million illegal immigrants already working in the country, many of them law-abiding, some of them not.
I support the proposals from the McCain-Kennedy bill in the Senate that set up a credible protocol for stricter enforcement, such as a real untamperable identification card similar to what’s used in the new passport, an electronic work authorization system, upgraded tracking through biometric verification of immigration documents and new authority given to the Department of Labor to conduct audits of employers for compliance.
I believe the only solution is a carrot and stick approach that combines tougher enforcement with a process that lets us weed out which of these 10 million people are being good citizens and put them on a difficult path towards earned citizenship. Once we have a process in place to separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ll know who’s supposed to be here and who’s not, which will make it easier to really go after the terrorists and those people trying to cut the line and get a free ride.
A sensible approach isn’t amnesty, it’s earned citizenship. And it should be hard. Look at the McCain-Kennedy bill in the Senate, it’s a tough path to citizenship that says illegal workers must maintain a job, pay their fair share of taxes, learn English and maintain a clean criminal record. I think it strikes the right balance of incentives and penalties that puts illegal workers who add to society at the back of the line and eventually allows them to achieve earned citizenship.
(photo caption pol op7.jpg) immigration history:
One man marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest an immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives holds a cartoon showing what could have happened 400 years ago if this land had similar immigration laws.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton
Immigration is the lifeblood of America, a bedrock value tied to our founding and one that constantly renews the greatness of our country. America is and will always be a home for people who are willing to put in the hard work to create a better life for themselves and their families.
Our immigration system is in crisis. It is estimated that we have over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 1.7 million of whom are children. Our current laws fail by not providing adequately for our national security. Also as a result of our broken system, many families are forced apart, unable to reunite with their spouses, parents, children, and siblings because of a shortage of visas. Our current system allows unscrupulous employers to skirt our laws and exploit undocumented workers in the name of cheap labor. As a consequence of our broken immigration system, there is a huge drain on our state social services, including financial strains on our local and state law enforcement. The situation leaves us with a lot of tough choices. We have a system that is broken and we have to find practical but fair solutions to fix it.
I neither support illegal immigration nor the enactment of fruitless schemes that would penalize churches and hospitals for helping the truly needy. That will not fix the mess we are in.
I support comprehensive immigration reform.
That reform has to be based on:
Strengthening our borders to make us safer from the threat of terrorism and using new technology to help our Border Patrol agents be more effective;
Greater cross-border co-operation with our neighbors, especially Mexico, to solve the problem of illegal immigration;
New enforcement laws that are both strict and fair;
Harsh penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers;
A fairer process for people seeking to come to America, especially for those whose families have been torn apart; and
A path to earned citizenship for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar for becoming a citizen.
I will support plans that meet these principles, and I will oppose one-sided solutions that simply sound tough but do little to deal with either our porous borders or the millions of families who live here.
Ours is a nation of immigrants. Our national identity and heritage – who we are as Americans – is shaped by our commitment to welcoming people of diverse backgrounds who come to our shores to pursue better lives for themselves and their families. We are rightfully proud of this commitment, and we are made better by those who come here to pursue the American Dream. There is no better example of our nation’s rich cultural heritage and diversity than New York, and its prosperity is a testament to how our country is enriched by the contributions of immigrants.
But ours is also a nation of laws. It is our respect for the rule of law that distinguishes the United States from many other nations and is no doubt one of the reasons people from around the world yearn to come here. As we move forward and undertake the thoughtful reform of our immigration laws, we must continue to embrace our uniquely American values of being a nation that is both welcoming to immigrants but also respectful of the law.
During my tenure in the Senate, I have supported efforts to increase exponentially the number of Border Patrol agents. By the end of this year, the ranks of our Border Patrol will have increased by 3,000 agents since 2001. But the problem is not simply one of manpower. Employing new surveillance equipment – like detection sensors, unmanned drones, and infrared cameras – can assist in this important work. This includes stopping the deplorable and tragic practice of human smuggling that preys on the undocumented.
Of course, enforcement of our immigration laws cannot start and stop at the border. We need an effective interior enforcement plan as well. In reforming our laws, we must enact strict and enforceable laws that are simultaneously effective and rationally-based. They can be neither rooted in prejudice nor play to peoples’ fears. In this vein, I oppose proposals – like the Sensenbrenner Bill (H.R.4437) – that target and criminalize the undocumented and punish those who would provide them with humanitarian assistance.
Although we as Americans believe strongly in the sanctity of the family, our immigration laws do not reflect this value. Growing visa backlogs often prevent legal immigrants and United States citizens from uniting with their loved ones, keeping families separated for years. As these family visa backlogs swell, a growing number of families find themselves having to make a difficult choice – remain separated from their loved ones for years or encourage their family members to enter the country illegally so that they can be together
One of the consequences of our dysfunctional immigration system has been the creation of a growing underclass made up of undocumented people. Estimates have the number of undocumented in our country at approximately 11 million people, a number that grows by the thousands each day. They are here illegally because our current system permits it. We cannot continue to ignore the problem. It is not enough that we simply know who is entering and exiting the country; we also need to identify who is already here. Our homeland security demands it.
The suggestion that enacting stricter and more enforceable deportation laws alone can solve this problem ignores reality. This will only force the undocumented deeper underground. New laws, which are both strict and fair, are certainly part of the answer, but we also need a worker program that encourages undocumented workers to come forward and identify themselves. While I categorically oppose any program that grants unconditional amnesty for illegal immigration, I do support providing undocumented workers with the opportunity to earn legal status in this country. For those who work hard, pay their taxes, continue to obey the law, and demonstrate a commitment to this country, the opportunity to eventually earn citizenship should also be available.
Balancing all of these interests is not easy, but I am committed to working with my colleagues to create a comprehensive system that respects both the rule of law and our immigrant heritage and American values.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
New York City
No one understands the importance of immigration to our nation more than New Yorkers. From our city’s founding, we have been a destination for those from all over the world who are willing to work hard and create a better life for themselves. That includes some of my own great-great grandparents, who sailed into New York Harbor in the 19th Century bearing hopes of living out the great American Dream.
New York has always been the world’s most international city, and today that is truer than ever. Our streets are brimming with new ideas and respect for each other’s religions and cultures, and we continue to welcome thousands of new arrivals each year. In fact, in Elmhurst alone, more than 70 percent of the population has emigrated here from more than 100 different countries.
Lately, our city’s diversity and cultural tolerance have found renewed relevance as the nation engages in an historic debate on immigration policy. Over the past few months, we have seen Congress discuss the merits of reform while immigrant communities here and around the country demonstrate their incredible pride for their adopted homelands.
There is no question that America’s – and New York City’s – greatness rests on the shoulders of the generations of immigrants who have come here to pursue their dreams. They are not only a source of our strength, but also a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. It’s critical, therefore, that we continue to welcome new immigrants, and to give those already here the opportunity to stay – the same opportunity that many of our parents, grandparents, and other relatives had. And we also can’t afford to lose the next generation of scientists, engineers, and others, who have always brought their talents to the United States and made our country what it is today.
Joining the action:
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents a small part of Queens, joined with protesters at the Brooklyn Bridge march. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
Supporting the families of New York City’s immigrants is a top priority of our Administration. That’s why over the past four years we’ve opened the doors of City Hall to every community. It’s why we’ve signed an executive order that protects law-abiding citizens from having their immigration status disclosed when they interact with City government, such as by calling the police to report a crime or taking their children to hospital. It’s why we also expanded translation services in our public schools, so that immigrant parents can get more involved in their children’s education. And it’s why we’re now teaming up with the City University of New York on an initiative that provides free legal advice to qualified permanent residents applying for citizenship.
Let there be no mistake: We need to strengthen our borders so that we can reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States. But the huge number of undocumented immigrants already living, working, and raising families in this country – more than 12 million by some estimates – means that the most practical approach, as well as the most compassionate one, is offering them the opportunity to earn the chance to become a citizen.
Immigrants are New York City’s heart and soul. That’s something I firmly believe. And as Congress continues its consideration of immigration reform, I’ll continue supporting reforms that make sense for our city, our nation, and the families of all immigrants.