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A Better Immigration Plan

By Ed Koch

In the biggest legislative upset in years, the American people defeated the President of the United States, George W. Bush, along with the bipartisan leadership of the United States Senate, including Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain.

Bush, Kennedy and McCain were supporting an amnesty program that would have opened a path to citizenship for 12 to 20 million illegal aliens. The amnesty legislation was supported by many of the major newspapers, as well as Catholic leaders led by Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, representatives of big business and many leaders of diverse ethnic communities, especially the Hispanic community. Their reasons for supporting amnesty included compassion, the need for the United States to increase its workforce, and the recognition, they said, of our inability to secure the borders and prevent unlawful entry.

The pro-amnesty leaders referred to this legislation as "The Grand Compromise." Included in the legislation was an authorization to build a 700-mile-long wall along our border with Mexico, providing funding for 370 miles, and increasing the number of existing Border Patrol agents (13,500) by at least an additional 1,306. Despite the best efforts of the pro-amnesty leaders, including the demonizing of their opponents, the American people said no. I believe the threat of the amnesty opponents to use the 2008 Congressional elections to defeat the bill's supporters caused many of them to leave the ranks of the cause led by Bush, Kennedy, McCain and vote against the proposed legislation.

The vocal Congressional opponents of the legislation were mostly Republicans, including Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Jim DeMint of South Carolina; and Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia. The vocal opponents in the House were Republican Congressmen Peter King of New York, Lamar Smith of Texas, Ed Royce and Duncan Hunter of California, and Democratic House member, Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Other opponents included television journalists, in the forefront, Lou Dobbs of CNN, and hordes of radio journalists, including myself, who believed then and believe now that if the government wanted to, it could have used its powers to cause the illegal immigrants to return to their home countries.

I recall the supporters saying, "We are not going to put 12 to 20 million people on trains and buses and ship them home," seeking perhaps to convey the image of Jews in Nazi Germany being sent in boxcars to concentration and death camps under Adolf Hitler. Many of us countered that illegals, 80 percent of whom are from Latin America, with 60 percent from Mexico, were here because they could not find jobs in their own countries. If the jobs were not available here because of federal law enforcement, we said, many would go home on their own.

The New York Times reported on August 10th that having lost the fight, "The Bush administration plans to announce numerous steps on Friday to secure the border with Mexico, speed the expulsion of illegal immigrants and step up enforcement of immigration laws." The Times article pointed out "Under the most significant change disclosed earlier this week, many employers could be required to fire employees who used false Social Security numbers." It is shocking to think a new regulation is needed to require the firing of illegals identified to their employers as having used false Social Security numbers. Surely, if it was illegal to hire the illegal immigrant in the first place, when employers later learn that the employee is illegal, the employer has to, under existing law, fire the employee. If that is not the case, we are living in an Alice-In-Wonderland world.

Since 1986, employers have been required to ask job applicants for proof of United States citizenship or immigration status allowing them to legally work here. Why wasn't that law enforced? Had it been, with employers receiving jail terms if the imposition of one or two fines did not get their attention, it would have worked, in my opinion. But there was no support at that time for sending employers to jail. But there is now. Employers, particularly those in agriculture and the hotel and restaurant business, complain they won't be able to harvest their farm crops and keep their hotels and restaurants open without illegal workers. I believe that every job opening can be filled if either or both of two options are employed. Raise the wage offered to the level needed to attract workers and raise the legal limit on the number of legal immigrants permitted entry into the U.S. and eligible to take jobs.

There is a third option, especially tailored for farm workers -- allow applicants for agricultural work from foreign countries to come here under contracts of two or three years, guaranteed fair wages, decent housing and medical care. Require employers to report each month if such workers do not regularly show up, so that law enforcement authorities can immediately seek to apprehend and deport them. Allow these workers to join unions, protect their right to engage in strikes and require them to report any change in their residence to the government.

Those currently here illegally should be allowed to join such programs, knowing at the end of two or three years, they will have to leave the U.S. and return to their countries of origin.

We should consider providing a program that will reward an illegal immigrant who turns himself in and provide that person with transportation home and a commitment that when he or she arrives in their country of origin, they can go to the U.S. embassy and receive a sum of $500 for each member of their family who has returned. We should provide exceptions to deportation, e.g. for those with children born in the U.S., those who can prove they have engaged in heroic acts, and those who have served in the U.S. military, and other criteria.

Further, every immigrant, legal but not yet a U.S. citizen or illegal, who is convicted of a serious misdemeanor or felony should at the end of their sentence be escorted to the border and deported. We should arrange with the governments of countries like Mexico and others that they receive the prisoner on conviction and let the convict serve their time in the prisons of their own country.

A case in point. How can it be justified that two people, one pleading guilty to a felony, the other to a misdemeanor, who evaded "about 3.4 million in state and city taxes for six years beginning in 1984" will receive a state court imposed sentence of being required to pay "$10 million in restitution and penalties" with the District Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, recommending no prison time, but five-years probation for the father, Arrigo Cipriani and three years' for the son, Guiseppe Cipriani?

The sentence is scheduled to be imposed in October. The court is not bound by the plea bargain. The court should require prison time and if the Ciprianis are not U.S. citizens, the court should recommend to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immediate deportation. I suspect the Ciprianis are citizens of whatever country provides them with the least tax liability. Monaco perhaps. If that disposition is not acceptable to the defendants, the court should allow the guilty plea to be withdrawn and set the case down for trial.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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