The Kenosha News did a relatively decent portraying Congressman Sensenbrenner's position on illegal immigration. Joe Potente, the article's author, has done a good job of reflecting the positions from both the left and right in Kenosha.
Day 6- Sensenbrenner: First, secure the border
You need not leave Wisconsin to find a key polarizing voice on immigration reform in Congress.
U.S. Rep James Sensenbrenner, a Menominee Falls Republican, is the leading sponsor of a House-backed package that seeks to seal off the border with Mexico and give teeth to lax employer sanctions that have allowed a steady stream of cheap labor to stream into U.S. businesses.
"What we need to do as a country and as a Congress is first to secure the border and enforce the employer sanctions that have been on the books for 20 years," Sensenbrenner said in a recent exclusive interview.
Sensenbrenner says it's a sensible first step to the illegal immigration question, while detractors - including President Bush - are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that would create a so-called guest worker program. That would allow for the legal importation of foreign labor as well as possible citizenship opportunities for these individuals.
Along with his supporters, Sensenbrenner argues that rolling a guest worker program into a border control bill would undermine the employer sanctions part of the equation. He calls phrases such as "path to citizenship" sugar-coated buzzwords that mask the term "amnesty" - a solution he strongly opposes.
Sensenbrenner points to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 as a prime case in his argument against such programs.
That legislation, enacted under President Reagan, more or less granted amnesty to roughly 2.7 million illegal immigrants while establishing the current employer penalties, which are universally viewed as being too loose and often simply not enforced.
Under the current sanctions, employers who are caught employing undocumented workers are fined $100 per employee. Sensenbrenner's legislation increases that fine to $2,500 per individual and adds criminal penalties against employers of illegal workers.
"The (current) fines are so low on those who hire illegal immigrants that it's a part of the cost of doing business," Sensenbrenner said.
Labor depresses wages
The immigration issue is not new to Sensenbrenner.
A member of Congress since 1979 and a member of the committee that crafted IRCA, Sensenbrenner notes that he voted against the 1986 legislation on the grounds that it would not be successful. He still believes he was right.
Sensenbrenner's argument for cracking down on illegal immigration is fairly simple - undocumented workers tend to flock to labor intensive, relatively low-skill jobs. These are jobs that illegal immigrants have shown a willingness to perform at significantly lower wages than American citizens.
"Having the cheap illegal immigrant labor depresses the wages for the citizens and the legal immigrants," Sensenbrenner said, admitting that it is typically cheaper for employers to hire undocumented workers than citizens or legal immigrants with green card authorization.
Sensenbrenner said most of these workers do not have health insurance, thus shifting the cost of their health care to providers and insured patients.
"Americans end up paying higher health care premiums, higher school taxes and higher income taxes to pay social services," he said.
There is also a matter of security.
Sensenbrenner's bill would allocate funds to build fences along portions of the border and to put "more boots on the ground" in the form of local law enforcement, to protect the United States from crime as well as labor exploitation.
"More and more of the traffic across the border involves drug smuggling as well as economic migrants," he said, noting that so-called "coyotes" - those who smuggle immigrants across the border - often require their passengers to carry backpacks full of drugs, often methamphetamine.
Sensenbrenner's bill would also establish an online Social Security verification system that the congressman said would function in a similar manner to the credit card systems used by most retailers today. This, he said, would crack down on the use of false or fraudulent Social Security numbers by undocumented immigrants seeking jobs.
Meanwhile, Sensenbrenner said he opposes granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants because he believes doing so would amount to rewarding people who break the law.
To that end, Sensenbrenner said he is also against a penalty structure being discussed in the Senate, which he said would in essence allow undocumented immigrants to purchase U.S. citizenship for $2,000.
"American citizenship should not be for sale," he said.
Opposition to Sensenbrenner's legislation was one of the key rallying points for the estimated crowd of 70,000 people who marched for immigration rights in Milwaukee last month.
That exercise was one of a string of protests held April 24, when immigrant workers left their jobs and urged economic boycotts in an attempt to illustrate their economic contributions to U.S. society.
Sensenbrenner said he believes the rallies had the opposite effect, however.
"The demonstrations have really solidified the support for me," he said.
The day after one of his town hall meetings in Waukesha was interrupted by 300 booing demonstrators brandishing Mexican flags in March, Sensenbrenner said he could not travel anywhere in his district without hearing constituents say "stick to your guns."
"I listen to my constituents," Sensenbrenner said. "That's why I've been here for 27 and a half years."
This support from his largely white, suburban district was evident at a later town hall meeting May 21, where a group of 15 white faces gathered and largely congratulated Sensenbrenner for his immigration reform efforts.
At the meeting in Germantown - named, ironically, for its ethnic immigrant settlers - Marian Schweda of Wauwatosa urged Sensenbrenner to take his legislation even further than he would like, to make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges.
"It's kind of like they've made fools of the United States," Schweda told Sensenbrenner. "They've thumbed their noses at us."
Sensenbrenner's own view of the immigrants themselves is more tempered.
The best way to show compassion to them is to stop illegal immigration, he said.
"We're going to have to deal with this issue because if we don't deal with this issue we're going to put a permanent underclass in our society, and that's not good for any society."
Sensenbrenner admitted, however, that his plan has not made him popular in the areas from which most of the United States' undocumented immigrants originate.
"I think I am now the second best known American politician in Mexico," he told the group at the Germantown gathering. "I won't say what the favorable or unfavorable rating is, but I'm not running for office there."
Do you believe that Sensenbrenner is correct and that we need to deal with the security first and worry about the rest later?
Do you believe the protests actually hurt the cause for immigrants?