When it comes to immigration, one thing I hear consistently from Tennesseans is "secure the border," and I approached the Senate's recent immigration debate with that in mind.
Working with Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota and others, I authored an amendment that dramatically strengthens the immigration bill passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate last week.
The "Hoeven-Corker amendment" mandates an unprecedented surge of security at our southern border and implements tough interior enforcement to curb de facto amnesty. Unlike previous attempts, our amendment ensures results by appropriating the funding immediately for these border security triggers, and conditioning permanent legal status on their implementation.
The amendment has drawn support from a number of notable conservative voices, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who declared it a "victory for Arizona."
Under the amended bill, in order to adjust to lawful Registered Provisional Immigrant status, unlawful immigrants would be required to pay a fine, pass criminal and national security background checks, and pay taxes for 10 years while receiving no access to federal benefits. Even then, only after ALL FIVE of the following "triggers" have been fully implemented AND at least 10 YEARS have passed, can RPIs apply for a green card and be placed at the back of the line. These triggers include:
• 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents along the southern border, more than doubling the current force.
• $4.5 billion in specific technology and equipment requested by the Border Patrol to achieve full surveillance of the border.
• At least 700 miles of fencing.
• A fully implemented electronic visa entry/exit system at all air and sea ports of entry where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are currently deployed.
• Required use of E-Verify by all employers, making it virtually impossible to work in the U.S. illegally.
The Hoeven-Corker language also strikes at the heart of de facto amnesty -- the 40 percent of those who are unlawfully present in our country because they are overstaying visas. The administration has not considered their removal a priority, and in many cases, has established policies to delay taking enforcement actions. Our amendment mandates the initiation of removal proceedings for AT LEAST 90 percent of visa overstays, requiring the administration to enforce the law.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Hoeven-Corker amendment "would significantly increase border security," and reduce both illegal entries and visa overstays.
The CBO report also has good news about the overall bill, noting that in the first decade it would increase real GDP growth by 3.3 percent (5.4 percent by the end of the second decade).
After more than six years in the Senate, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to vote on a bill that spends about $40 billion over 10 years and returns $197 billion to the Treasury without raising taxes and while producing real economic growth. I don't know of a business in America that wouldn't relish that return on investment.
The Senate immigration bill has drawn support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chambers and universities across Tennessee, the American Conservative Union, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, among many, many others, who believe as I do, that from economic, national security, deficit reduction and moral standpoints, our country must enact real immigration reform now.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker is a Republican from Tennessee.