The United States eventually will have to enact a sensible, comprehensive immigration policy that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants already in this country. But any comprehensive plan also must include stepped up border security, and Sen. Lindsey Graham's border bill is a step in the right direction.
Graham, R-S.C., was one of the chief proponents of the bill that would have provided both greater border security and the means for illegal immigrants to seek citizenship. That bipartisan bill, which had the support of President Bush, was defeated this summer after a rancorous debate.
Earlier this month, however, Graham sponsored a bill that provides $3 billion in emergency funds to crack down on illegal immigration. The bill, which was an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations measure, was approved in the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 95-1.
Part of the money will be used to pay for most of the 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. That, we think, is a largely ineffective way to prevent border crossings. But the bill also would provide money to hire 3,000 more border agents and install motion sensors and 105 ground-based cameras along the border, both of which should enhance the effort to stop border crossings.
The Graham bill also will fund detention centers for legal immigrants who overstay their visas and for repeat offenders who enter the country time and again without proper documentation.
Significantly, the money also would buttress efforts to compel employers to verify that their workers are in the country legally. That, of course, is the heart of the issue. As long as U.S. employers seek cheap labor and look the other way when hiring illegal immigrants, the flood will continue.
Securing the U.S.-Mexico border won't stem illegal immigration completely. A large percentage of illegal immigrants who now are in the United States entered the country on legal visas but simply stayed here when the visas expired.
And, as much as hard-line anti-immigrant critics might say otherwise, enforcement is only half the solution. The United States is not about to deport the estimated 12 million or more immigrants already in this country, many of them productive, hard-working members of communities nationwide, not to mention a vital cog in the nation's economy.
Improving border security is an essential part of the effort to address the illegal immigration issue. But even with the improved security that $3 billion will buy, the problem is not going away.
Graham's amendment bolsters border security, but that is only part of the solution.
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