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Ken Salazar: Why we need a comprehensive approach to immigration reform

When I was elected to the United States Senate in 2004, I joined a body of diverse backgrounds, personalities, and political affiliations. We came together, Democrats and Republicans, in a bipartisan spirit to pass comprehensive immigration reform. In 2006 a bill passed in the Senate, but it was never signed into law.

My former colleagues in the Senate similarly came together this year and passed a comprehensive, common-sense package to modernize the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers. The bill would hold accountable both undocumented workers and the employers who hire them, while providing a tough but fair pathway to citizenship and better securing our borders.

It is past time for the House to finish the job. The national security, legal, economic, and moral imperative of immigration reform demands it.

It is not just that we must address the reality of undocumented residents for economic and moral reasons—our own national security interests require that we bring them out of the shadows. Immigration reform has to consist of strengthening our borders and bringing the undocumented population of the U.S. into the light of day, through a tough but fair pathway to earned citizenship. Our government ought to know who lives here, and innovative technology and a pathway to earned citizenship will help to address this national security need.

As President George Bush said to the American people in 2006, immigration reform needs to be comprehensive because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all. That position has been echoed by President Obama and so many others who have worked to create a tough but fair and practical immigration system.

For those who urge “border security first” before any other aspects of immigration reform are enacted, the Senate reform bill sets out a series of border security requirements that must be achieved over 10 years before persons here illegally can obtain a permanent resident green card. Those border security requirements represent around $46 billion in spending, which is in addition to the annual and supplemental immigration enforcement funds appropriated by Congress, and in addition to the almost $187 billion dollars already spent on border security and immigration enforcement by this country since 1986.

Overwhelmingly, Americans support a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented Americans, provided there is a substantial waiting period, the individuals pay back taxes and fines, learn English, and pass criminal background checks. These are exactly the provisions laid out in the Senate immigration bill.

In my home state of Colorado, business and agricultural leaders as well as the faith community from around the state urge passage of comprehensive “across the board” immigration reform. They are continuing the long line of leaders from across the political spectrum and the country urging tough but fair and practical comprehensive immigration reform.

For all the challenges facing Congress, comprehensive immigration reform is achievable. Congress must do the right thing and fix our broken immigration system. The road map is there. It just takes statesmanship and a willingness to rise above petty politics to get it done.

Add your name and join the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

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