A bipartisan group says the nation can no longer "afford or tolerate" what amounts to "de facto amnesty" for the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and must allow them to apply for citizenship.
In an op-ed piece published Thursday by Politico
, the four co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Immigration Task Force laid out a plan to "fix" or reform key areas of the U.S. immigration system, beginning with the recognition that the millions of immigrants living here illegally are not going away. They agreed that it does not make sense economically or morally not allow the opportunity to become citizens.
The co-chairs are former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, and former Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.
"These individuals are not living up to their economic potential, are open to exploitation and cost us millions of dollars annually in law enforcement and other expenses," they wrote. "No matter how you spin it, what exists today is de facto amnesty, a situation we can no longer afford or tolerate."
Creating a path to citizenship was just one of several recommendations laid out by the task force co-chairs, who also stressed that the public "deserves to know whether the nation’s borders are secure and how effectively their border-protection tax dollars are being spent."
The four called for Congress to authorize "scientifically valid" measures to assess progress on border control, adding that the measures should be audited independently to ensure an accurate picture of unauthorized immigration.
"Protecting America's national security also depends on our ability to enforce our immigration laws within the country," they wrote, noting the system must also be able to accurately show how many immigrants remain in the United States after their visas expire.
The group also called for a system that does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive green cards before others who have applied legally and are waiting. They make an exception, however, for those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They also recommended that visas "for those currently in line should be made available within a maximum 10-year period."
The two Democratic and two Republican co-chairs agree that a steady flow of legal immigrants who have made contributions to help build the nation is well documented and should be continued through a robust worker visa program that attracts both skilled and unskilled workers.
Small businesses would also benefit from being able to bring in immigrant workers through a new legal visa program, they said. But they called for a visa system that's directed more toward industries facing labor shortages. The new visa program, they said, must also include tougher penalties for employers who exploit undocumented immigrants.
Rice, Barbour, Cisneros, and Rendell said the "current system is fundamentally flawed and broken," but they insisted that there is plenty of room for Republican and Democrats to reach a consensus on how to move forward.
"If we can focus on where there is agreement and then work conscientiously to narrow our differences, then real and durable reform is possible," they concluded
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