The Senate has two choices on immigration reform: Do something now to curtail illegal immigration. Or do nothing, accept the status quo and hope it doesnít get worse.
Iím for doing something, but I wonít vote for an unbalanced, flawed bill.
Most Americans agree that currently, illegal immigration is unacceptable. Is the immigration reform bill before the Senate perfect? No. But itís stronger than the current 20-year-old laws which obviously have failed.
Some want the Senate to do nothing because this bill is not perfect. When will perfect circumstances come Ė when there are 20 or 30 million more illegals here?
The current proposal has the best chance to be improved and get through the U.S. Senate, though I will oppose a bill that does not put border security first. But itís time to act.
Some Senators on the left, who want unfettered immigration, are unhappy with this proposal. They think itís too strong and unfair to immigrants. Some think it will hurt their big labor union backers and have tried unsuccessfully to water it down.
Senators like me, on the right, who would like to see even tougher restrictions on illegal immigration, are strengthening this proposal significantly, as we did last week with the Gregg Amendment which increased requirements for fencing, border patrol agents, radar towers and detention facilities.
As a Senate leader Iím tasked with moving legislation that actually will become law. This bill is our last hope to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. Itís not everything Iíd like to do, but itís a good start.
As of now, it puts border enforcement first, requiring that we hire thousands more border patrol agents, erect 300 miles of barriers, and patrol the border using high technology surveillance equipment, including radar stations and cameras.
Most important, it has a provision actually requiring border security. It commands the Department of Homeland Security to certify that our border is secure, before anything else in the bill can be implemented.
Then, as part of any temporary worker program, it will require a sophisticated employment eligibility verification system to enable employers to distinguish legal from illegal workers and reject illegal applicants.
Illegal aliens no longer would be able to use bogus driversí licenses, Social Security numbers or other fake identification. The bill requires employers to verify eligibility based on a new, tamper-resistant, encrypted identification system, which would tie each worker to a specific job. Employers would pay harsh penalties for not complying.
The temporary worker program is truly temporary. After two years, workers must go home and re-register. No more coming here and staying forever.
The bill also has provisions to end immigration of extended family members. Favor will be given to immigrants with needed professional skills like doctors, engineers, welders or other specialties that can contribute to Americaís economy. And it requires immigrants to learn English.
I have the most concern with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. Itís practically impossible to locate and ďround upĒ 12 million people, scattered throughout the U.S. But we should not give them amnesty nor let them off the hook for breaking our laws. They shouldnít get automatic citizenship, and they shouldnít get benefits they donít pay for.
They should have to pay a fine, undergo background checks, be constantly employed and pay taxes, and go to the back of the line for citizenship papers Ė all required in this bill. And if I can make these provisions even stronger, I will.
This bill is a work in progress. As a leader, Iíve worked to get it on the Senate floor for debate because the American people deserve decisions, not delays. Iím waiting for the final product before deciding if I can vote for this bill.
One thing we canít do is to put off immigration reform any longer. Something or nothing Ė thatís the choice before us. This bill could provide something, and thatís 100 percent better than nothing
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email