By Senator Johnny Isakson
When I was running for Senate in 2004, illegal immigration ranked second only to the war on terror among the issues people asked me about on the campaign trail. And since I was elected, it’s the issue people still ask me about more than any other.
Nowadays, it doesn’t matter where I visit, whether in Georgia, across the nation or abroad: North, south, east or west, people want to know what Congress intends to do about illegal immigration. For the two weeks before the holiday recess, the U.S. Senate was consumed by what has become the most important issue to Americans today; look for more as lawmakers return to Washington and, in an election year, in the months ahead.
Nobody disputes that the presence of as many as 12 million people in the United States illegally is an increasingly serious problem. School systems are stretched. Health care systems are strained. States are challenged on a daily basis as to how to deal with the repercussions of a predicament they’ve landed in while the federal government was looking the other way.
Make no mistake: Illegal immigration is a federal problem. It is a crisis the federal government must solve, and there’s no disagreement on the Hill about that. There’s plenty of disagreement, however, in the parties and the chambers of Congress, on how to clean up this mess.
This is by no means a chicken-or-the-egg issue. Before we address any other issues dealing with illegal immigration, we must secure this nation’s borders. Not only is that a matter of law, it is a matter of national security. That is one reason that I propose prohibiting the implementation of any new guest worker program pending significant border security enhancements. Sadly, the Senate is too focused on guest worker programs and not enough on border security. Senate Democrats have even gone so far as to block up-or-down votes on amendments that address the need to secure the border.
It is my duty and the duty of every of this nation’s elected representatives to oppose legislation that fails to incorporate measures to secure our borders before any new guest worker program is implemented. Failing to do so ensures a repeat of 1986, when amnesty was granted to 3 million illegal immigrants without enhancing border security first. The result? Millions more immigrants flooded into the United States illegally, and now they strain our schools, our hospitals and our local jails.
In February, I led a congressional delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to see our illegal immigration problem firsthand. I also wanted to talk to the men and women protecting our border on the ground and find out what resources they need to do the job. In Arizona, I was able to view the one and only unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Customs and Border Protection. This lone vehicle is flown along the border and can detect individuals trying to cross the border illegally. Border protection agents use the signals from this detection system to catch these illegal immigrants and to stop them from entering the country.
The progress in securing our borders has been impressive; the keys to continued progress include increased personnel, equipment and technology for the entire 2,000 miles of our southern border. Above all, we must increase our eyes in the sky: Coverage on the border by an unmanned aircraft 24 hours a day would dramatically increase the effectiveness of our men and women on the ground.
I have introduced legislation that would provide more than $450 million to acquire and maintain a squadron of at least 25 unmanned aerial vehicles with high-tech sensors and satellite communication.
Johnny Isakson, a Republican and Georgia’s junior U.S. senator, wrote this commentary for The Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature. © Georgia Public Policy Foundation (April 21, 2006). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.