Federal spending on border security is at a historic high. Illegal crossings are at a 40-year low. Deportations reached record numbers in President Barack Obama's first term. Let's get on with the business of fixing the rest of our dysfunctional immigration system.
We're talking to you, Sen. Mark Kirk.
The U.S. Senate began debating an immigration bill, the product of months of negotiations by the Gang of Eight, a group of four Republicans and four Democrats who are serious about getting this done.
The bill's authors haven't declared victory in the effort to seal the border. Their measure contains up to $6.5 billion for more agents, more fencing and more surveillance equipment, including drones.
Much of that wouldn't be necessary, frankly, if lawmakers worried more about letting workers into the country legally instead of keeping them out. That means overhauling the visa system so American businesses can hire the workers they need. It means dealing with the 11 million immigrants who came here without permission to fill jobs for which there were no available visas.
The Gang of Eight proposal would update the visa system to reflect the changing needs of American businesses. It would provide separate, flexible allocations for high-tech, white collar and low-skill workers, with an additional program for agricultural guest workers. The increase in visas would come at the expense of current programs that favor relatives of immigrants already here.
The bill would require employers to use an electronic screening system to verify the immigration status of new hires.
Opponents have offered amendments that would set those benchmarks higher — so high, the bill's supporters say, that the path to citizenship would be out of reach.
The full Senate already has rejected one amendment that would have withheld provisional status — leaving the 11 million living in the shadows — until the entire border is under surveillance. That could take 10 years or more.
Kirk was one of 15 senators who voted against bringing the bill to the floor for debate at all. He's still stuck on the "enforcement first" model, and he's apparently not impressed with the falling numbers.
He says he likes a plan outlined by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. That amendment would raise the bar that must be met before immigrants can apply for green cards. The bill's supporters say Cornyn's targets are unreasonable and prohibitively expensive.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the conservative point man on the Gang of Eight, has said he won't vote for the bill he helped draft unless the enforcement provisions are stronger. He's trying to broker a compromise. Step one: Get Kirk and others to let go of the idea that until the border is fixed, everything else has to stay broken.
Copyright Chicago Tribune. Distributed by The Associated Press.