December 16, 2012
By Rep. Ted Poe
On Election Day, the American people voted for the antithesis of change: They voted for the status quo of more government, more giveaway programs, less freedom and less individuality. In this election, the Republican Party should have had an easier time convincing Americans that they would be better off if we changed course. Tangled up in embarrassing statements about rape and abortion and notably silent on immigration, the electorate chose what they knew over what they perceived incorrectly as closed-minded and out of touch. This allowed the radical left to use fear tactics to convince many of the falsehoods that Republicans just don’t care. Where does that leave the GOP?
For Republicans, the road forward still involves the tried and true, ingrained-in-our-souls principles of limited government, individual liberty and fiscal responsibility. Many within the changing electorate — which does not currently favor the GOP — share these principles. But, if we continue to follow the party faithful that refuse to become more inclusive, it may be years before we see a Republican in the White House. It’s time to change course, which we can do without sacrificing our core principles. It’s time for Republicans to take the lead on immigration reform.
Our immigration system is broken. A decades-long problem does not get fixed with a bumper-sticker solution. Rather, a permanent fix must include a workable and reasonable approach that sets clear guidelines for high-skilled labor and day labor, for the so-called DREAM generation and for those that have illegally entered the U.S. for no other reason than to commit violent crimes. We can start with what is easily agreeable by all: Take those criminals and return them to their former homes. Our jails are overcrowded and our bills are piling up. More than 20 percent of federal prisoners were illegally in the country when sent to prison.
A good starting point for a legislative package is the so-called Texas Solution. Although I don’t agree with all points on the list, it’s a start. And, importantly, it includes a verifiable, temporary guest worker program. In addition, we should start a documentation process that includes a photograph, biometric data like a fingerprint and other identifying information. Documentation does not mean citizenship and all of the rights that the term bestows. It means a type of legal status, either temporary or permanent, for some that are here, and it also means a pathway home for those who are here to commit crimes. Those given legal status would contribute to the U.S., primarily by paying taxes, for the benefits that they enjoy by being in the U.S. Amnesty is not an option. Those who receive documentation eventually may apply for citizenship, and those who have served in our military should be placed ahead of the line. One thing that has been absent from the latest talk on immigration is that not all of the undocumented seek citizenship; what they want is legal status. They want to be able to live here and work here without the fear of not knowing what tomorrow brings. They need some certainty in a process (which Washington has never been good at providing).
Additionally, the legislation must get rid of the purposeless visa lottery system. Visas should be awarded — imagine this — to those who benefit our nation. We have a deep need for high-skilled labor, and while we work on a long-term plan for STEM education for American students, we should do what we can to discourage foreign workers who are American-educated and American-employed from taking what they’ve learned here, going back home and competing against our workers. This should not be controversial.
Lastly, immigration reform must be handled in conjunction with border protection. Our country can’t have one without the other. Contrary to what the current administration says, the border is not secure. To the legislators of non-border states from both parties who think that the border is secure, I invite you to go with me to the Texas-Mexico border to see otherwise. The solution may be to handle both matters in tandem and to implement immediate border-protection measures, such as providing adequate resources (human and equipment) to state and local law-enforcement entities, putting boots on the ground and enacting stiffer penalties for certain elements, like the scourge of human trafficking. Of equal importance is this: Congress needs to rid itself of the “not-in-my-backyard” mind-set when it comes to border violence and trafficking. The drug cartels’ networks have expanded into extortion and kidnapping and impact every state and district. And, Hispanics are often the victims of this lack of border protection.
The GOP’s core principles are sound, but it’s time for a “come to Jesus” meeting. There is a perception among many Americans that the GOP has tried to exclude certain groups, such as Hispanics. Those days are over. We are the party of “we the people, by the people, for the people,” but we must work much harder and embrace a more publicly open-minded approach so that we are not “we the few.” Otherwise, the Republican Party will go the way of the Whigs.
Rep. Ted Poe is a Republican from Texas.