Sunday, June 6, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Like many in Arizona, Nevadans recognize that the immigration system is broken. The system has suffered from neglect, political opportunism and muddled messaging. But the comprehensive immigration reform proposal released in April by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is a step in the right direction and a proposal that Nevadans can and should support.
Like the rest of the U.S., Nevada’s rich history and growth was woven by immigrants — Irish, Chinese, English, you name it — many of whom came to build the Transcontinental Railroad and work in the mines. Our journey from statehood to the present day has been shaped by the principles of limited government and equality of opportunity. In light of our wide open spaces, we hold sacred our right to bear arms and understand the importance of security and the protection of our personal borders.
In this context, Nevadans have good reason to support the Reid-Schumer-Menendez immigration reform proposal. The top reason to get behind it is that the bill will strengthen our nation’s security and secure our borders.
Arguably, the first line of defense in protecting our country is knowing who is here. The bill will require all illegal immigrants to register with the government, which is especially critical now that Mexican drug violence is spilling over into Southern Nevada.
Although many Nevadans have expressed support for Arizona’s new immigration law, what hasn’t gotten enough attention is the fact that the new legislation will not make anyone safer. On the contrary, the Arizona law is so harsh that it will encourage illegal immigrants to remain underground in the shadows when what we really need to do is get them into the light of the law. We need to know who is in our country. We need a bill that requires illegal immigrants to register.
A second weakness of the Arizona law is that it only focuses on one border. The 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. through our airports with passports and visas — some valid, some not. The Millennium Bomber targeting LAX came into the U.S. legally from Canada, while the recent “Underwear Bomber” came through our airports.
The front line is everywhere — including the vast number of open, soft target casinos, resorts and retail shops in Southern Nevada. Focusing only on the southern border is like locking the doors and leaving the windows open. Terrorists will have no problem taking advantage of this gap in our homeland security defense system.
To protect our borders and nation effectively, we must give our Border Patrol agents the proper equipment for them to do their job. The disturbing truth is that as attempts to harm the U.S. have increased, funding for border security, fencing, infrastructure and technology has decreased in recent years. Congress needs to adequately fund our nation’s security agents so they can keep America safe and secure.
Underpinning Nevada’s values is a sense of fairness — equal opportunity to compete on a level playing field. But under the current immigration system, things haven’t been fair for a very long time. Employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants have an unfair advantage over companies that play by the rules; hard-working laborers have seen their wages plummet. That’s not fairness.
This new comprehensive immigration reform proposal is an attempt to right these wrongs and bring fairness back. Once enacted, the proposal will change the rules of the game — there will be no more free rides, no more ill-gotten gains.
First, it will require illegal immigrants to pay a fine and back taxes, secure a job, learn English and go to the end of the line to wait their turn for citizenship.
Second, it will crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants over local Nevadans, particularly those in Southern Nevada who are struggling with a record 14 percent unemployment rate. This means that as our local businesses try to keep their doors open in the current economic environment, those who try to get ahead by breaking the law will be punished.
This new Senate proposal is a step in the right direction to change our broken immigration system. By requiring illegal immigrants to register with the government and protecting all of our borders and ports of entry, it will make America safer. It also restores fairness by sending strong signals to those here and those thinking about coming here that the rules of the game have changed. In short, the proposal would be good for Nevada and good for America.
Nancy E. Brune, former director of policy at the UNLV’s Institute for Security Studies, works on issues of national security at Sandia National Laboratories and teaches American politics at the College of Southern Nevada.