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New immigration bill repeats errors of ’86

In Indiana and across the country, concerned citizens are losing more and more faith in their government. Sadly, they have every reason to after a series of recent scandals and broken promises under this administration.

Congress must take this growing trust deficit seriously. Most Hoosiers I visit with are skeptical of any action taken right now in Washington.

During the recent Senate debate on immigration reform, I argued that Congress could begin to repair this credibility gap by passing an immigration bill that required real results in border security before granting a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. The American people deserve an immigration system that is fair, effective and delivers on past promises to secure our nation’s borders.

Instead, the bill ultimately passed by the Senate only requires that the Department of Homeland Security submit a strategy on border security to Congress before granting undocumented individuals provisional status. A strategy to secure our borders is not enough. But sensible amendments, including one I offered that would have strengthened border security measures as a requirement to a pathway to citizenship, were denied even a vote.

While I strongly believe we must fix our broken immigration system, I could not support this legislation. There are some good measures in the Senate bill, but my fear is that if this bill becomes law, we will repeat the same mistakes of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

The bipartisan plan signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan in 1986 provided a path to citizenship first with the promise that we would get control of our southern border.

But it didn’t work. At that time, about 3 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States. Today, there are upwards of 11 million illegal individuals.

As the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, I have traveled to the southwest border to see firsthand the challenges we continue to face to secure our country’s borders. This is a real problem that must be addressed to stem the flow of illegal immigration.

Immigration reform also should include measures to improve employer verification and strengthen the exit system, especially given that about 40 percent to 45 percent of all illegal individuals here today come to the U.S. legally but then overstay their visa.

I am the son of an immigrant, and immigration reform is of great importance to me.

Our current system must be repaired for those who have been standing in line for far too long waiting to become citizens the right way and for the American people who have been promised before that we will get control of our borders.

It must be repaired for the American businesses trying to keep talented, high-skilled people here in our country.

That, in turn, leads to economic growth and job creation. It must be repaired for the agriculture industry in Indiana so that farmers and producers have access to needed workers. And it must be repaired for the sake of our nation’s security.

I will continue working on these important issues, and my hope is that the House will come forward with alternative legislation that is more credible than the Senate bill. Immigration reform is necessary, but it must be done in a way that restores the trust of the American people.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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