The nonpartisan Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates the illegal immigration population of Tennessee at 120,000. Cleary, something must be done. But the Senate immigration reform bill, drafted behind closed doors by the Gang of Eight and championed by President Barack Obama, only compounds the problem. In its current state, it provides amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
Before we add to the mess of immigration laws, we need to stop turning a blind eye when current laws are violated right in front of us.
In fact, our own local law enforcement officials have been explicitly denied the ability to enforce standing laws. When Sherriff Jimmy Jones of Knox County attempted to do the job he was elected to do by requesting his officers be provided with the training necessary to enforce federal immigration laws when applicable, he was denied. The Obama administration has been doing the same to other law enforcement officials across the country.
The Senate immigration bill actually increases our illegal immigration problem by sending a signal that anyone who comes to our country illegally will eventually be allowed to stay. This acts as a disincentive to legal immigration, which is the exact opposite of what the government should be aiming for. Further, while we should welcome with open arms those who come to this country respecting its laws and traditions, encouraging illegal immigration makes it harder for all citizens to compete in the labor market, driving down wages and growing the tax burden.
The illegal immigrant population in Tennessee comes at a huge cost to taxpayers. The average Tennessee household pays $212 a year supporting the illegal population, according to data from FAIR. Had this money remained in the pockets of taxpayers, it would have covered the equivalent of almost two average Tennessee household’s monthly electric bills. These potential savings are nothing to scoff at when many are still struggling and living paycheck to paycheck.
Granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship will exacerbate these costs. Some argue the contrary, suggesting that the addition of millions to the tax base would offset any benefits they incur, but this is not true when the typical incomes of illegal immigrants are accounted for. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 94 percent of this population lives at or near the poverty level. This means that they would be net receivers of entitlements, and since they would also be eligible for more government benefits, the cost to taxpayers would likely surpass the current $212 a year.
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to immigration-like we saw with health care-Congress and the president should pursue individual, targeted measures that receive broad bipartisan support. For example, Tennessee’s strong agricultural industry relies on a legal, viable guest worker program. Unfortunately, our nation’s current guest worker program is outdated and in need of substantial restructuring. We can and must establish an effective and workable temporary visa program.
Obama has called for reform under the guise of making the system “fair,” but what is fair about a bill that allows current laws to be ignored and takes more hard-earned taxpayer money?
We need a sensible approach to immigration, one that prioritizes keeping our borders safe and allows for enforcement of current laws.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais
U.S. Congress, 4th Tennessee District
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