Americans are frustrated by the inaction of their federal government on comprehensive immigration reform and border security. So are we.
We both represent districts on Long Island, and we have both worked on immigration-related issues for over 25 years — one of us, Representative Suozzi, from the perspective of immigrant’s rights as a mayor, as a county executive and now as a member of Congress; the other, Representative King, from the perspective of border security as a former county comptroller, and now as a congressman and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
We come at this from different points of view and different parties, but with a shared commitment to finding a solution to our country’s border-security issues. Together, we have found common ground to address the problems faced by undocumented immigration and the need for robust border security.
For more than 30 years, our government has failed to solve these problems. This year, the American people endured the longest government shutdown in American history when lawmakers and the president failed to reach a spending deal that centered around border security and immigration along the United States and Mexican border.
The national emergency regarding immigration reform, however, is not on the border, but in the nation’s capital. We must work together — across party lines — to address these matters in a way that receives bipartisan, bicameral support, and gives the president legislation he feels he can sign.
On Long Island, we have one of the 10 largest populations of undocumented immigrants from Central and South America, as well as countless unaccompanied minors. Many have been in our communities for decades living productive lives, attending school with our children, working six days a week and going to church on Sunday.
It is our duty, as elected officials, to provide solutions to the problems, not sound bites to the press. That is why we are proposing a realistic set of reforms that would offer legal protection for five million undocumented people and, alongside it, enough funding to make our border secure.
First, our plan would create a path to citizenship for approximately 1.9 million immigrants brought by their parents, without documentation, when they were 18 or under, the so-called Dreamers. To be eligible, they must have graduated from high school; have no record of criminal activity; and be either in the military, working full time for at least three years or attending college.
We would extend similar coverage to the 400,000 people who were invited to America and given temporary protective status after facing natural disasters, violence and extreme poverty in their home countries.
Finally, relatives of Dreamers, of T.P.S. recipients and of others who are undocumented — approximately 2.7 million more people — would be eligible for three years of protective status, renewable indefinitely, if they have been in the United States for a significant number of years and have no record of criminal activity.
Taken together, this represents five million people.
Next, to qualify for protection, an undocumented person would be required to pay a $2,000 fee. If each of the five million paid that amount, our plan would generate $10 billion.
Some of that money, in turn, would be used to cover the administrative costs of this new program; we figure those costs would be $1.4 billion.
The remaining $8.6 billion would be split evenly: $4.3 billion would pay for additional physical structures along the United States-Mexico border, as proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, and $4.3 billion would go to aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help prevent further out-migration from those countries, as well as to radar technology, improved ports of entry, immigration judges, border patrol personnel and humanitarian assistance along the border, as recommended by the Department Homeland Security.
For far too long, many people living in our country have been living in fear, and many others have grown frustrated by the inaction of our elected officials. The undocumented have lived in the shadows, facing the daily anxiety of potential deportation, even as they try to participate in our American communities.
As legislators, we know what we have to do: We must stand together and pass legislation that will help secure our borders while giving undocumented immigrants a path to permanent residency without the fear that at any moment they may be deported.
Peter King is a Republican representative from New York. Tom Suozzi is a Democratic representative from New York.