Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: Unemployment is Very, Very Serious. So What We Need to Do is Legalize 12-20 Million Additional Workers.
[A constituent contacted Senator Whitehouse to express concerns about the rate of unemployment in the United States and efforts at immigration reform pending in Congress. Following is the Senator’s reply.]
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding America’s immigration system. I appreciate hearing from you regarding this very important issue.
I understand your concerns regarding the level of unemployment in the United States, and agree with you that we must stimulate the economy by providing jobs for Americans. While some guest workers may be needed in very specific circumstances, the guest worker visa program should never be used to displace American jobs. As you know, the unemployment rate in Rhode Island is now among the highest in the nation, a staggering 13.0 percent. The anemic economy has affected thousands of Rhode Islanders who are struggling to pay their mortgages, heat their homes, and keep up with the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. At a time when jobs are hard to find, our utmost priority should be the hiring of American workers.
Congress must pass comprehensive legislation that provides for strong enforcement at our borders and worksites, establishes a means for regulating the flow of immigrants into this country, and copes with those who are already in America illegally. Strong enforcement of our laws against the hiring of illegal aliens must be part of this equation, but we can no longer allow millions to live in the shadows of our society either. Rather, I believe in requiring illegal immigrants to regularize their status by paying fines and back taxes, holding down a job, passing a criminal background check, and learning English and civics.
The right answer is not to incarcerate and deport tens of millions of people. As a former federal prosecutor, I know from experience that this plan would be costly and impossible to implement, requiring an expansion of our federal prison and justice systems by as much as 60 times. Although there is disagreement on how to balance all these competing objectives, there is little disagreement that action is necessary. It is my hope that with the cooperation and leadership of the Obama Administration, we can arrive at a consensus approach to fixing our broken immigration system.
Majority Leader Reid introduced S. 9, the Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009 at the outset of the 111th Congress, but we do not know yet the details of what this legislation would entail. Senator Reid’s bill states that its purpose is to strengthen the U.S. economy, provide for more effective border and employment enforcement, prevent illegal immigration, and reform avenues for legal immigration. I look forward to working with the Obama Administration and my colleagues in the Senate in crafting sensible, effective legislation to fix our broken immigration system. As I work on this important issue, please know that I will keep your concerns in mind.
Again, thank you for contacting me. I hope you will continue to keep me advised of your thoughts on any issues of concern to you.
United States Senator