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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

Immigration reform...don't repeat history, protect local ag economy

Reforming our immigration and border security laws is one of the most critical and complex issues facing America. I've traveled throughout Central Washington talking with concerned citizens, farmers and law enforcement in private settings and town hall meetings. While there's no easy answer, we've got to get control of our borders and rewrite the agriculture guestworker program so our local farmers and economy can survive.

Simply enforcing existing laws won't get the job done. Current law doesn't give border patrol agents the tools needed to intercept and detain illegal immigrants; tamperproof ID's don't exist; national security is at risk because we don't know who is in our country; red-tape blocks border fencing; farmers can't hire the workers they need; and those waiting to come here legally face years of backlogs, while those cheating the system live here undetected.

The principles guiding my vote on any immigration bill will be 1) does it make us more secure, 2) will it make our border as impenetrable as possible, 3) does it punish law-breaking, and 4) does it establish a guestworker system that accommodates Central Washington agriculture.

The current agriculture guestworker system is broken. Farmers apply for workers and don't get responses until weeks, even months, after fruit is ripe and harvest has passed. Farmers are also stuck when verifying if workers are legal. They must choose between questioning a worker's documents and getting sued by legal rights groups or accepting documents only to be told months later they're fake.

With today's technologies, neither problem should exist. A guestworker system combining tamperproof ID's and instant verification would ensure legal workers are available when farmers need them.

Central Washington needs a new guestworker system. Our growers have always relied upon seasonal workers coming to the area for harvest and departing when it's done. All our communities are heavily dependent upon agriculture as their economic foundation.

Of the 435 Representatives in the House, only a handful represent agriculture areas as reliant upon a seasonal workforce as we are. While few, we've been working together for months to ensure any new system meets the unique needs of labor intensive farming.

After debating how to debate their bill for weeks, it's unclear what the Senate will do, if anything. What does seem clear is the bill as written will not pass, and the legislation's fate depends upon the outcome of numerous amendments.

The Senate bill is expected to change (or fail) and I won't endorse or oppose it without knowing the final details. The 1986 bill proved details matter - if not done right, in another 20 years we'll again be back at square one.

I will, however, keep discussing key pieces of the Senate bill as it stands today. In my view, the bill does provide stronger border security and an agriculture guestworker system for Central Washington, but the bill is far too lenient on those who've broken the law.

Illegal activity should be punished - not rewarded. I've always opposed blanket amnesty and automatic citizenship like that enacted in 1986. Just as I will never vote for a bill that would cripple Central Washington's livelihood, I will not vote to repeat that historic mistake.

But, we must face reality. Having the government go door-to-door deporting every illegal immigrant may be theoretically possible, but the federal police power needed for mass deportation is something all Americans should think about. Similarly, those who were brought here when they were small children through no choice of their own deserve to be treated fairly.

I support the Senate bill requirements that those made legal go to the end of the line to become citizens, learn English, pay back taxes, and pay thousands in penalties - there should be no automatic path to citizenship. However, the punishment for law-breaking should be much stronger.

We must target felons, gang members and drug dealers for immediate deportation. We must make the border as impenetrable as possible using fencing, technology, and more manpower.

There should be thorough background checks.

There should be no Social Security for work done illegally and no access to federal welfare.

There should be tamperproof ID's using biometric technology so forgery is impossible.

If the Senate passes a bill, these are just some parts that need to be strengthened. While Democrat leaders refuse to say how or when the House will act on immigration, it's unlikely the House will simply debate a Senate bill rather than its own proposal.

But, Speaker Pelosi and Democrat leaders control the House, and for over six months there's been no schedule, no committee action, no plan or proposal.

I've been engaged in this debate since the beginning. We need reform that ensures past failures aren't repeated and our country never again is faced with millions of illegal immigrants. And we need a new, fraud-proof agriculture guestworker system so Central Washington farmers and communities can prosper.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's 4th Congressional District.

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