Comprehensive revision of U.S. immigration law is the most important way to secure the nation's borders, the Center for American Progress said in a report.
The report, "Doing What Works: Doing What Works to Ensure Immigration Reform Is Complete and Comprehensive," describes myriad problems with the Department of Homeland Security "virtual fence" program known as SBInet and the need for more manpower at the borders. The think tank's plan would focus enforcement efforts on disrupting drug and human trafficking and imposing stiffer penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants while ensuring workers' privacy rights. It also contends that the current visa system encourages overstays, and recommends replacing it with a more flexible option that better accommodates applicants' economic and family needs. A new legal immigration framework must include a "tough, fair and practical program" to resolve the status of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, the report notes.
In that respect, the center's immigration proposal dovetails with a plan from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Judiciary Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The senators' plan would require biometric Social Security cards to ensure illegal immigrants cannot get jobs and establish a temporary-working program for low-skilled workers, in addition to providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship.
House leaders plan to let the Senate take first step on legislation, said Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, during a news conference for the release of the report. But, he said, legislative language might not materialize this year, with members worried about fallout from the recent passage of health care legislation. "The reality is, in talking to other folks, it might be a little difficult," Cuellar said.
In addition to overhauling immigration law, the report supports Napolitano's decision to freeze SBInet spending and reallocate $50 million in stimulus money (PL 111-5) from the border technology program to purchase proven, commercially available technology. But the report cautioned that officials should salvage usable technology and not scrap the program outright. DHS should also improve its oversight of technology development and procurement programs and consider more gradual deployment, to ensure that each piece of equipment works before adding more.
Additionally, federal officials should provide local law enforcement agencies on the border with more resources to boost equipment and staff and also work more closely with Mexico, perhaps funding a binational security force that would share funding, equipment and intelligence on the border, the report said. Such a plan might include generating revenue for border security by place greater emphasis on catching cash, drugs and weapons going into Mexico and confiscating smugglers' assets, it said.