To the editor:
My job as a legislator and as Nevada’s senator is to help solve our nation’s problems, not ignore them. But it seems that this newspaper’s editorial board would prefer we put our heads in the sand rather than put our heads together to find solutions that fix our broken immigration system (“Reid for amnesty,” Tuesday editorial).
Regardless of this newspaper’s opinion or agenda, nobody who thinks seriously about this issue believes it is fiscally or physically possible to deport the estimated 12 million people in this country who are undocumented. One recent report estimated that doing so would cost a staggering $200 billion, or more than the combined budgets for the Departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, Energy, Education, Commerce, and Agriculture. Mass deportation is unrealistic.
If we truly want to fix our broken immigration system, and not just score political points, we need comprehensive immigration reform that is tough on lawbreakers, fair to taxpayers and practical to implement. I do not support amnesty, and I reject your editorial’s factual inaccuracies and false characterizations of the reform I support.
I believe immigrants here without legal status must be required to register with the government, learn English, pay their taxes, pass criminal background checks and pay fines and penalties for being here unlawfully — or face deportation. Far from getting on an “expedited path to citizenship,” they must go to the back of the line, behind those who have waited lawfully for years to join family or begin a new job in the United States.
Reform must also include strong and effective enforcement of our northern and southern borders; tough sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants; and more understandable channels for legal immigration where necessary. Right now we have a system where our back door is broken and our front door is shuttered. We need to keep out criminals and those who will not contribute meaningfully to our society, and welcome the best and the brightest and those who will work hard to help our economy to grow.
Finally, reform should include the DREAM Act, which would enable children brought here years ago through no fault of their own to legalize their immigration status and go on to college to become valuable members of our community.
Immigration reform will help us safeguard the rights and wages of American workers and force unscrupulous employers to get on the right side of the law. So long as immigrants working illegally are afraid to report being underpaid, exploited and abused for fear of deportation, American workers will be undercut. We need to require these workers to apply for legal status and become hard-working taxpayers.
Reform will also help us get control of a crucial national security problem. We need to know who is in our country and crossing our borders, so that we can focus our resources on criminals, terrorists and those who wish to do us harm.
Last weekend, I reiterated my commitment to enacting comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system as soon as possible and fulfilling the promise of a nation built by immigrants. I believe this is the right way forward for Nevada and for our country because it will make our country safer, strengthen our economy and honor American values.
The writer, a Democrat, is majority leader of the U.S. Senate.