Also, despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third. El Paso and other cities and towns along the border are consistently rated among the safest in the nation. Of course, we shouldn’t accept any violence or crime, and we have more work to do. But this progress is important.
Beyond the border, we’re also going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law. And we are deporting those who are here illegally. Now, I know that the increase in deportations has been a source of controversy. But I want to emphasize: we are not doing this haphazardly; we are focusing our limited resources on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. As a result, we increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent.
That is not to ignore the real human toll. Even as we recognize that enforcing the law is necessary, we don’t relish the pain it causes in the lives of people just trying to get by. And as long as the current laws are on the books, it’s not just hardened felons who are subject to removal; but also families just trying to earn a living, bright and eager students; decent people with the best of intentions. I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how a democracy works. What we really need to do is keep up the fight to pass reform. That’s the ultimate solution to this problem.
And I’d point out, the most significant step we can take now to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole – so that fewer people have incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place. This would allow agents to focus on the worst threats on both of our borders – from drug traffickers to those who would come here to commit acts of violence or terror.
So, the question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work we’ve started. We have to put the politics aside. And if we do, I’m confident we can find common ground. Washington is behind the country on this. Already, there is a growing coalition of leaders across America who don’t always see eye-to-eye, but who are coming together on this issue. They see the harmful consequences of this broken system for their businesses and communities. They understand why we need to act.
There are Democrats and Republicans, including former-Republican Senator Mel Martinez and former-Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg; evangelical ministers like Leith Anderson and Bill Hybels; police chiefs from across the nation; educators and advocates; labor unions and chambers of commerce; small business owners and Fortune 500 CEOs. One CEO had this to say about reform. “American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society… Immigrants have made America great as the world leader in business, science, higher education and innovation.” That’s Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, and an immigrant himself. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his views, but let’s just say he doesn’t have an Obama bumper sticker on his car.
So there is a consensus around fixing what’s broken. Now we need Congress to catch up to a train that’s leaving the station. Now we need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants; that demands everyone take responsibility.
So what would comprehensive reform look like?
First, we know that government has a threshold responsibility to secure the borders and enforce the law. Second, businesses have to be held accountable if they exploit undocumented workers. Third, those who are here illegally have a responsibility as well. They have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization.
And fourth, stopping illegal immigration also depends on reforming our outdated system of legal immigration. We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to not only study here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here. In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the U.S. were founded by immigrants, leading to more than 200,000 jobs in America. I’m glad those jobs are here. And I want to see more of them created in this country.
We need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status.
Our laws should respect families following the rules – reuniting them more quickly instead of splitting them apart. Today, the immigration system not only tolerates those who break the rules, it punishes the folks who follow the rules. While applicants wait for approval, for example, they’re often forbidden from visiting the United States. Even husbands and wives may have to spend years apart. Parents can’t see their children. I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families. That’s not right. That’s not who we are.