Dear Friend :
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Senate debate on comprehensive immigration reform. I appreciate hearing from you and appreciate the opportunity to respond.
Many have asked why I became involved in a process to work towards a comprehensive reform bill in the Senate. I did it for two reasons. First, in my travels throughout the State of Georgia in the past three years, I had heard loudly and clearly from Georgians that they wanted us to end illegal immigration in America right now, plain and simple. We cannot leave it for future generations to solve. And second, quite frankly, the 2006 elections changed the landscape in Washington and put Democrats in charge of the legislative process. Had I not sat at the table and fought for conservative principles, Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi would have had the votes to pass last year's horrendous Senate bill and send it on to the President. I could not let that happen. Therefore, I stood strong with other conservative colleagues in the Senate and worked towards a process by which we could to start the immigration debate in the Congress.
I started this process seeking to accomplish three main goals in this debate - to truly secure our borders, to prohibit a new pathway to citizenship and to stop the current climate of amnesty whereby millions of illegal immigrants are breaking our laws and facing no punishment for doing so. As a result of a severely flawed immigration law passed in 1986, some 12 million to 20 million immigrants have been allowed to enter this country illegally and remain indefinitely. They work tax-free, get free health care in our emergency rooms and educate their children for free in our schools. Our nation's policy today is amnesty, and it must end.
The immigration bill we debated for the past two weeks differed dramatically from the one signed into law in 1986 and it is also very different from last year's Senate bill. The 1986 law granted amnesty but failed to secure the border, and our country has been paying the price ever since. Last year, the Republican-led Senate repeated the same mistake of 1986 by passing a bill to grant legal status to illegal immigrants without securing our nation's borders and without imposing any punishment for those here illegally. I voted against that bill last year because it was amnesty and because it failed to secure the border.
This year, I led an effort to ensure that any proposal contain the essential foundation for successfully reforming our immigration system - a requirement to truly secure our borders first before any reform of our temporary worker system takes place. This became known as the "Isakson trigger," and it mandated that Congress must fund, put in place and make operational true border security before any temporary work program could begin. As it currently stands, the bill states that border security must include at least 20,000 border agents, 31,000 detention beds, four unmanned aerial vehicles, 105 radar towers, and 300 miles of vehicles barriers. In addition, a minimum of 370 miles of the fencing mandated in last year's Secure Fence Act must be constructed. I firmly believe that these security measures would finally provide comprehensive border security and would ensure that we have operational control of our southern border.
The final, key piece of my trigger was a biometrically secure identification card that will allow employers for the first time to instantly verify whether an immigrant is legal. Employers today must guess whether documentation provided by immigrants is fraudulent or not. A biometrically secure ID would replace this guessing game with certainty and would hold employers accountable with much stricter fines for hiring illegal workers.
Although opponents of the bill have suggested that there was nothing worthwhile in this bill, I would suggest that it contained several critical and necessary changes to fix our broken immigration system. It would have secured our borders first. It would have ended our current system of amnesty. It contained no new pathway to citizenship and would have forced illegal immigrants to go home before they could be eligible for a green card or for citizenship. It would have ended chain migration. It would have given employers a fraud-proof system to verify whether workers are legal. It would have forced immigrants to learn English. These are the kind of conservative Georgia principles that I brought to the table and fought for and was able to include. Even though these principles were included, I recognized it was still an imperfect product and that is why I worked through the amendment process to make it even stronger.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Bingaman to limit the temporary worker visa quota for the proposed Y-1 visa to a "hard cap" of 200,000 per year. The bill as originally drafted provided for 400,000 Y-1 visas for the first year, and that number could have risen to 600,000 in following years. This amendment passed and that number was instead capped at 200,000.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Graham to impose mandatory jail sentences for those who crossed the border illegally after being deported - at least 60 days in jail for the first offense and no less than two years for the second offense. Everyone needs to know that America is changing its immigration laws, and that if you break our laws, you will lose your freedom. This amendment passed.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. McCain to require illegal immigrants to pay back taxes on their earnings for the time they had been in the United States . This amendment passed.
I cosponsored and voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Coleman to close a loophole in existing immigration law to allow local law enforcement to acquire information about the immigration status of a person they have probable cause to believe is not lawfully in the U.S. There are several "sanctuary cities" around the United States that have prohibited their law enforcement to inquire about a person's immigration status. In certain cities, a person can be charged and even tried without the local authorities ever inquiring about whether the person is in the United States legally. The amendment would make it clear that state and local governments may not prohibit their law enforcement from checking a person's immigration status when they have probable cause to believe that the person is in the United States illegally. Unfortunately, this amendment failed.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Hutchison to prohibit anyone who worked here illegally from obtaining social security benefits based on earnings obtained while here illegally. This amendment passed.
I cosponsored and voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Inhofe to require that English be declared the national language of the United States . It also provided that the English language is the default language for government communication, and that no person has a right to have the government communicate in any language other than English, unless "specifically stated in applicable law." If an exception is made, then only the English language version of any government form can have legal weight.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Demint to require that temporary workers maintain a minimum level of private health insurance to keep them off public assistance such as Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, this amendment failed.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Sessions to prohibit anyone who is not a green card holder in the United States from being able to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. This amendment passed.
I voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Cornyn to permanently bar about 635,000 "alien absconders," or immigrants who have received deportation notices, from obtaining visas. Unfortunately, this amendment failed.
I also voted to defeat all cloture motions designed to cut off debate on the immigration bill. The Democratic leadership in the Senate refused to allow up or down votes on additional Republican amendments that would further strengthen this bill. Among these critical initiatives that I supported but was not allowed an up or down vote on was an amendment mandating spending for border security as well as an amendment to require illegal immigrants to return home in order to participate in the Z visa program. The Democratic leader's refusal to allow votes on these additional amendments was unacceptable.
As I have said throughout the debate, I would reserve judgment on the final bill until deliberations were complete on the bill. At the time the Democratic leadership moved to end debate on the bill, it was my view that this bill was not good enough yet for the people of Georgia .
I recognize the lack of trust that a majority of Georgians have in the federal government's ability to follow through on its promise to secure the border. For that reason, I recently sent a letter to the President calling on him to use his emergency funding powers to fully fund the border security measures in this legislation as well as all outstanding border security measures that have previously been passed but not yet funded .
I have been working hard to address the number one domestic issue in the United States . I will continue my efforts because I believe it is absolutely critical to our state and to this nation that we secure the borders and restore credibility to our immigration system.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please visit my webpage at http://isakson.senate.gov for more information on the issues important to you and to sign up for my e-newsletter.
United States Senator