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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finally a sensible outline for immigration reform

My Turn

by Terry Goddard
Arizona Attorney General

This week we heard two well-reasoned calls for reforming the nation's badly broken immigration system. Though the calls came from very different places, they propose similar reforms that I have long supported and deserve the immediate attention of Congress.

One call came from President Obama, the other from a coalition of 19 Arizona business groups. Both emphasized that the immigration problem cannot be solved without comprehensive federal reform.

The recommendations from the state business coalition, whose leaders include many Republicans, are pragmatic and achievable. They include four principal reform elements:

(1) First and foremost, strengthen border security.

(2) Create a secure system for all employers nationwide to verify the legal work eligibility for employees.

(3) Require immigrants already in the U.S. illegally with no criminal record to register for a federally established form of legal status, learn English, and pay appropriate fines and any taxes owed.

(4) Grow the economy by establishing a market-based immigration process that supports a range of workplace needs from seasonal to highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

Opponents of immigration reform complain that proposals of this kind amount to amnesty. That's simply not true. Illegal immigrants would need complete several steps, including a criminal background check and paying a fine, before they could get in line for citizenship.

Increasing border security must be the top priority in any reform plan. President Obama's statement that the border is more secure today than any time in the past 20 years doesn't address the increasing threat of the Mexico-based drug cartels. The federal government must commit more resources to combat the cartels.

Border security has to go well beyond building higher fences and putting more boots on the ground. Illegal immigration today is controlled and managed by the well-financed organized criminals based in Mexico. They use sophisticated communications, a network of scouts, rugged vehicles and heavily armed escorts to provide passage for the vast majority of illegal border crossers. The border cannot be effectively secured until law enforcement gains the upper hand against the cartels.

I have focused my efforts as Attorney General on going after them. My primary strategy has been to follow and reduce the flow of money that funds their violent operations. I have helped break up and prosecute several human-smuggling and drug-smuggling rings in Arizona. My Office has seized more than $20 million in cartel assets, and earlier this year, I won a $94 million settlement from Western Union that will provide new resources to law enforcement agencies in all four Southwest border states to go after the cartels and their leaders.

I have also worked to increase coordination and information-sharing with Mexican law enforcement. My Office has taken the lead in training some 400 Mexican prosecutors to help improve that country's low criminal trial conviction rate. Western Union settlement money will also enable us to share data on money transfers and further disrupt the cartels' cash pipeline.

Like most Americans, I believe the federal government has miserably failed to fulfill its responsibility to secure our border and control immigration. I understand the frustration of Arizonans over that failure and the passage of an immigration law meant to compensate for the federal government's inaction.

But that law does not do anything to secure the border or make Arizonans safer. It will not stop the criminal cartels from smuggling more illegal immigrants across the border, and it will impose a multi-million-dollar financial burden on our police departments.

We need comprehensive federal reform along the lines proposed by the state's bipartisan business coalition. We need to increase border security, we need to reform our nation's malfunctioning immigration system, and Congress must take up this challenge now.

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