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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Norm Coleman Constituent Letter on Immigration

Kevin Ecker posts the letter on his blog, Eckernet:

Dear Mr. Ecker :

Thank you for taking the time to contact me concerning agricultural workers and immigration policy. I am supportive of allowing workers from other countries to fill jobs that remain open in the agricultural industry.

While not a perfect bill, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) addresses the agricultural worker shortage by streamlining the agricultural guest worker program and making it more affordable and flexible. These reforms are largely based on the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security ( AgJOBS ) Act of 2007. S. 1348 permits visas to be issued to assuage the year-round agricultural employment needs and has a specific class of visas for current undocumented agricultural workers that are willing to continue working for the next three to five years. Due to the serious labor shortages and the national interest aspects of our domestic food production and supply, these provisions would be implemented immediately upon enactment of the bill.

I believe that these provisions, if implemented correctly, could be a practical solution to fill agricultural worker shortages. Last year alone, over one third of Florida ’s orange crop was left unpicked due to labor shortages, and growers in California , Washington , and New York all lost substantial portions of their crops due to an insufficient workforce. The reality is that most Americans are simply not interested in these positions.

I could not, however, support S. 1348 in its current form. S. 1348 was never considered by a Senate Committee and was brought directly to the floor before most of us had a chance to fully review it. Senate leadership blocked many amendments, including my own, that would have improved the bill. The repercussions of this bill are too great, and I could not in good conscience support moving forward with legislation that is incomplete and unfinished. For this reason, I voted against a procedural motion on June 7, 2007 that would have pushed the bill forward without further debate. However, I am optimistic that the Senate will resume debate of immigration reform legislation in the near future.

I strongly oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. Any legalized status for people already here must not be a blank check that will encourage more people to enter this country illegally. In order to be here, I believe that immigrants must undergo background checks, demonstrate proof of employment, possess English proficiency and an understanding of civics, and pay a monetary penalty if they entered illegally. S. 1348 would do much of this, but I would have preferred more stringent policies in some of these areas. I would have supported more rigorous background checks than currently in the bill and stricter workplace enforcement if given the opportunity to amend the bill. I am pleased that under S. 1348 illegal immigrants would not be eligible for Social Security benefits accrued using a false number.

I believe that improving our border enforcement capabilities must be central to any immigration reform legislation. Our unprotected borders are unacceptable and represent a crisis which must be dealt with decisively and without delay. I am pleased that S. 1348 would require hiring more Border Patrol officers, constructing vehicle barriers and fences on the Southern border, monitoring the entire border electronically and ending the catch-and-release system that leads to many illegal aliens remaining in the United States, and that such improvements would have to be enacted before any permanent benefits would be given to the current illegal population and before any new guest worker program would start. This bill would also increase the penalties for many immigration violations.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing from you and I value your advice.

Norm Coleman
United States Senate