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Immigration reform: Transparent legislation needed

A great deal of misinformation has circulated recently about my position on immigration reform, despite explaining my position at length for months in interviews, video messages, telephone town halls and public meetings, not to mention thousands of direct constituent responses. So let’s clear the air (again) about what I support and what I am doing to address this critical issue.

I support reforming our nation’s broken immigration system. We face serious issues that demand real solutions, and I want to help enact meaningful legislative solutions in several key areas. This statement of principle is broad, and it means different things to different people, so let me be specific.

First, we must improve border enforcement. Securing our northern and southern borders and all ports of entry into the country is vital, as is eliminating visa overstays — approximately 40 percent of undocumented immigrants enter legally on visas.

Second, we should eliminate incentives for individuals who come here without following legal pathways. The most obvious incentive is the chance to find employment, and so a modern e-verify system will ensure businesses hire only those legally allowed to hold a job

Third, we need a modern, efficient, sustainable guest worker program adaptable to changing economic demands.

Despite House committees moving legislation to accomplish several of these goals, these bills have not come before the full House for a vote. This is extremely frustrating, a sentiment I have expressed publicly and privately to my party leadership.

Contrary to many statements, I did not vote to deport “Dreamers.” I voted to defund implementation of a presidential executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That order, issued just months before the 2012 election in a transparent attempt to score political points, did not merely prevent deportation for young undocumented individuals. Rather, it started a new federal program, unilaterally changing federal policy, by issuing work authorization to those covered by the order. This action, a pattern for this administration, clearly usurps Congress’ legislative authority and was a transparent political attempt to gain favor with a key voting bloc.

I have publicly stated repeatedly that young people brought here in an undocumented status need a chance to make a life for themselves in the only country they have ever known. I know many facing this situation want to be right with the law — I have met them, heard their stories, prayed with them, asked their opinions. But the appropriate method is through a transparent and public legislative process via the elected representatives of the American people, not executive fiat. My vote reflected that belief. In addition, I have drafted a bill to address this issue that is gathering support from interested parties at both the local and national level.

Although the House has not yet addressed the complicated issue of earned legalization, I have publicly called for it to do so, notably in my remarks at the widely attended August SXSW conference in Las Vegas. Any legalization process must be tough but fair, and not penalize those immigrants already in line. The Senate bill lays out one possible solution to the problem which is reasonable — and, again, I have said so publicly. But the Senate bill has other problems. So there may be other ways to reach this goal, and I’m open to those proposals in the House.

Finally, let me address the comprehensive bill versus a step-by-step approach. People deserve a deliberative, open, transparent process that addresses key policy areas separately. Some have proposed we should pass any bill, even if it is one that has flaws. Those advocating this irresponsible “all or nothing” approach are entirely politically motivated. I cannot support a flawed bill. Flawed bills have significant unintended consequences. Twenty-five thousand Nevadans who lost their health insurance are dealing with the unintended consequences of a reckless “all or nothing” approach on health care.

I truly believe Republicans and Democrats must come together to address these important issues and put aside petty partisan politics. This is about people, people I have met and know, and people with whom I have shared my own family’s immigration story. If we can put aside the constant desire to inflict political pain or gain advantage, we can get this done. That is my hope and will remain my focus.

Joe Heck, a Republican, is the U.S. representative for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

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