Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, April 01, 2005

Shoring up the border

by Senator Larry Craig

Since the attacks of 9/11, anybody who has flown on a commercial flight has noticed the increase in security measures at our airports. Checked luggage is screened and sometimes inspected by hand. Carry-on luggage is also closely scrutinized, and it is no longer possible to accompany your loved ones all the way to the gate and watch them board the plane. Only passengers with a ticket for a flight may pass through the security checkpoint.

In many ways, this entire process is similar to the measures one must go through to enter the United States itself. At the port of entry, people seeking to enter the United States go through a screening process. Vehicles, baggage or packages may be searched, and entrants must meet with a customs agent, even if only briefly, to make sure the necessary documents are in place to enter the United States.

Unfortunately, if we think of the United States as a big airport, we have a very serious problem. Our security measures have completely broken down. They are being bypassed in record numbers, as people find more and more ways to skip the baggage check and the security checkpoint, and make the trip without tickets, or with fake ones.

The tragedy of 9/11 gave everyone a better understanding of the practical effects of this problem. When people can enter and leave our country without following the legal procedures, it becomes very difficult for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to know who is here and why. Much has been done to get a handle on our porous borders, and we are undoubtedly more secure as a result. But there is still much to do.

That is why I was proud to cosponsor a recent amendment to the budget resolution in the Senate, which will would provide for 2,000 new border patrol agents in fiscal year 2006. The amendment requires at least ten percent of these new agents to be deployed along our northern border, because the border with Mexico is not the only one with holes.

The money to pay for these 2,000 agents would be taken directly from the International Affairs budget, because I’m sure Idahoans agree it is more important to ensure the security of our homeland before providing more foreign aid. I have always supported strong enforcement of our immigration laws. Respect for the rule of law is critical to maintaining our republic and the principles it was founded upon.

Having said that, we also have some immigration laws that are outdated and broken themselves. Those who know me understand that I ran for the office of U.S. Senator for Idaho because I want to address challenges and solve problems, not look the other way and pretend they don’t exist. Making a good start today is better than waiting for a comprehensive solution, which may take months or years. That is why I have worked so hard on the AgJOBS bill – the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act.

AgJOBS will fix our broken H2-A visa program to certify legal agricultural guest workers and pair them with growers here in the United States. An estimated 500,000 or more farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented, almost all of them truly doing jobs Americans cannot or will not take, because of the sacrifices demanded in seasonal, migrant work. However, the current H2-A program is so cumbersome and inefficient that it only certified about 45,000 guest workers last year. That isn’t good enough. I want ALL of the workers who come to the United States to come here legally, with background checks. But the current system doesn’t work, and that’s why it needs to be fixed.

People don’t use broken tools to run a farm or plant a nursery. You either fix or replace them. The same is true with the H2-A program. If we reform it and make it more efficient, effective, and usable, the need to go outside the system will diminish. The last time we had a significant farm guest worker program in the 1950s, illegal immigration plummeted.

AgJOBS is only a part of the effort to make our homeland more secure, while providing a stable labor force to produce a safe supply of American-grown food for our family tables. Providing for more border patrol agents is another part. As long as I remain in the Senate, I will work to uphold the rule of law and respect for the law, and keep Americans safe in their homes and places of work.

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