In a recent question-and-answer session with Rotary Club members, Incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden said that he wanted to take a tougher stance with Mexico over the problem of illegal immigration and that Americans who employ illegal immigrants should be punished. Senator Biden's approach touches on two critical aspects of any national policy designed to deal with illegal immigration, but he needs to take it one step further.
First, it is important to recognize that immigration has played a positive role in our country's history and in our ongoing economic success. This country was built on the backs of immigrants and our economy will continue to employ them as long as they continue to come here. But there is a process for entering and working in this country. Unfortunately current policies are not working and immigrants continue to enter the United States illegally, with the vast majority doing so through our border with Mexico.
So Senator Biden is right when he says we have to be tough with the Mexican government. Any truly effective policy for dealing with illegal immigration will have to have international cooperation. The Mexican government is not really interested in stopping its citizens from entering the United States because the Mexican economy cannot provide adequate employment for them and millions of dollars per year are sent back to Mexico by the workers illegally in the United States. In fact, these remittances are second only to oil revenues when it comes to supporting Mexico's economy. Diplomatic pressure has to be applied to get Mexico to play by the rules and to work out some sort of agreement for Mexican workers to enter the United States legally. Then they can be documented and they can help pay for the government services they enjoy while in this country.
Senator Biden is also correct when he says that Americans who employ illegal immigrants should be punished. The United States currently has laws that if enforced internally could help reign in the problem of illegal immigration. Workers continue to come here illegally because they know that there are jobs available for them. They know that they will be hired, despite their illegal presence in this country, by American citizens and companies looking for cheap labor. These employers must be held accountable and there should be steep penalties imposed on anyone who hires a worker who entered this country illegally.
Finally, we must secure our borders. Senator Biden has previously supported a border fence to slow the rate of illegal crossings, but the erection of a barrier is only part of the solution. Our border patrol must be resourced properly, in terms of both personnel and equipment, if it is to succeed in securing America's borders. The current number of border patrol agents, even when augmented by military personnel and surveillance equipment, is inadequate to cover the almost 2,000 miles of border between the United States and Mexico. Until the border patrol's shortfalls are addressed seriously, we cannot expect to put a significant dent in the number of illegal border crossings.
Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue of late, particularly in the weeks and months leading to the midterm Congressional elections. Yet even with the increased attention it has received, the illegal immigration problem has not been properly addressed. I expect the issue will continue to be a significant point of debate as the various presidential candidates begin to tour the country on the road to the White House in 2008. Debate is good, but action is better. And any action on illegal immigration will have to address the three points made here if it is to have any chance of success.