Immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship is akin to awarding a consolation prize to people who break the law, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples told U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in a letter Thursday.
In his letter to the Florida Republican, Staples, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2014, added that millions of people are in the country illegally not because the current system’s legalization process is flawed, but instead because of an inept worker-visa system.
“One element that is essential for this corrected status to not be amnesty is that it include a meaningful and just fine for circumventing our laws, not the minor nuisance amounts being contemplated today,” Staples told Rubio.
Rubio is part of the U.S. Senate's bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” whose bill to overhaul the country’s immigration began a weeks-long mark-up this week. Staples’ letter is in response to Rubio’s request for comments on the proposal, which Staples has criticized since it was made public last month.
Staples said Texas officials “understand the challenges of border security and immigration.” Security, he said, should not be “delayed further by unnecessary and political debates on how to change our citizenship laws.”
Instead, he wrote, the Department of Homeland Security should shed the notion that a person hiding in the South Texas brush land is simply here illegally in search of employment.
“The current DHS administration has declared the border safe. How can the same Department be trusted to strengthen security efforts when they make a declaration that is clearly untrue?” he wrote.
But he acknowledges there is a need to bring undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows” in a way that places them on a pathway to legal residency. Citizenship, he said, should be an option for people who go through the process “like everyone else.”
Staples sent the letter the day after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, filed five amendments to the “Gang of Eight” measure, including one that would ban anyone ever who spent any time in the country illegally from obtaining citizenship, and another calling for DHS to triple the amount of U.S. Border Patrol agents on the border.
In remarks before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Cruz warned that the automatic opposition to Republican amendments by the committee’s Democratic majority could derail the entire effort.
“I very much hope that what we are embarking on will prove to be a real markup and it will be, I hope, a process to improve this bill,” he said. “The majority has the votes on this committee to vote down every minority amendment, or virtually every minority amendment, if it so chooses. I hope the majority does not take that approach. We have seen that approach in prior instances, and that is not an approach that, in my view, leads to passing a bill.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also addressed the committee and urged more resources for the border. Last month Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, filed companion bills that would create security goals that DHS must meet before immigration reform advances.
“This debate is about our most deeply held values. One of those is respect for the rule of law,” Cornyn said. “For too long, our immigration laws have gone unenforced and have been violated with impunity. Our effort to fix the broken immigration system must begin at the border — where we must set objective, realistic goals and then meet those goals.”
The Senate must also address visa overstays, Cornyn added, saying that 40 percent of the people in the country illegally entered legally via a government-issued visa.
“We had passed a law in 1996 mandating an entry-exit system which has never, ever been implemented,” he said.