U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl introduced federal legislation Thursday that outlines a catalog of ideas for an enforcement-first approach to immigration and border issues.
The bill marks a sharply different approach than the Senate immigration reform bill that failed in June. That compromise bill bundled border-enforcement provisions with immigration provisions that would have granted legal status to illegal immigrants already living in the United States. The catch to the new bill is that Kyl doesn’t expect that it will be enacted into law — not in its current form.
“The strategy is not to pass this bill, although I hope we pass many of parts of this bill,” he told the Tribune.
“It is designed to say: To all of you who wondered what additional changes in the law would be useful for the purposes of enforcing our immigration policy, here is the list as far as we can put it together,” he said.
Some of the highlights of the bill would bolster border security, including: 14,000 new Border Patrol agents, 700 miles of new fence, 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 105 ground-based radar stations, new holding facilities for 45,000 captured illegal border crossers, and an electronic employment verification system.
Overall, the bill contains 72 separate provisions, some of which were ideas recycled from the previous bill and its amendments, as well as prior suggestions.
The new bill is silent on the two most controversial aspects of the compromise bill: a path to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, and the concept of a guest worker program that would allow foreign nationals to work legally in this country.
Kyl is among five Republicans who are co-sponsors, along with: Sens. John McCain of Arizona, John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who was one of the chief opponents of the initial bill.
McCain, who was one of its top supporters, issued a statement commenting on the latest one.
“Although we must move forward with other issues, we can show the American people that we are serious about securing our nation’s border,” McCain said. “This bill highlights the steps that need to be taken to ensure the integrity of our national security and immigration system, and would provide an essential step toward achieving comprehensive reform in the future.”
Kyl said the new bill is flexible in that each enforcement provision can stand alone or be combined with other immigration bills.
In the near term, Congress is more likely to address immigration reform in small chunks rather than in a large comprehensive manner, Kyl said. For example, certain lawmakers are entertaining the idea of including in the farm bill aspects of immigration reform that relate to agricultural workers.
Getting the catalog of ideas on the record will prove to be useful, even if it’s unlikely most will be put into play any time soon, said Farrell Quinlan, spokesman for the association, Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, which claims about 200 corporate members.
Republican political analyst Alberto Gutier said the bill keeps border enforcement and immigration issues in the public realm.
“We need to push it. We cannot stop pushing the immigration issue,” he said. “That’s the best way to do it.”
In addition to bolstering border security, the bill outlines several provisions to increase immigration enforcement. More Department of Homeland Security agents would have the authority to enforce immigration laws. They also would be required to identify, track and remove foreign nationals who overstay the terms of legally obtained visas.
Furthermore, it requires Social Security cards to be embedded with digital photographs of the people to whom they’re issued, which employers could use to verify job seekers’ identities.
“That card would be the virtual guarantee of both Social Security status and identify so that you wouldn’t have to use any other documents and there wouldn’t be any other questions about it,” Kyl said.
In addition, the bill would:
• Provide funding to aid states in issuing better quality driver’s licenses and other identity documents to ensure their unique authenticity.
• Increase civil and criminal penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and against people who misuse IDs.
“We learned a lot and we tried to take everything good that we learned about enforcement and before we forgot it all, put it in a bill,” Kyl said.