WASHINGTON (Talon News) — Saying that immigration reform has been “held hostage” by special interest groups on “both ends of the political spectrum,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has introduced legislation to develop a “guest worker” program and “strengthen homeland security efforts at the border.”

Cornyn says that homeland security, economic certainty in the labor market, and the safety of many immigrants working and living in the United States are threatened because of the influence special interest groups exert on the immigration debate. Sen. Cornyn late last week proposed the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003 (S. 1387) in an effort to address these concerns.

“This common sense solution to our broken immigration system addresses the need for better border security and acknowledges the important contributions that immigrants make to our economy,” Sen. Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship said. “It will bring hard-working immigrants out of the shadows and onto our tax rolls, while removing incentives for human smuggling and other exploitation.”

According to information provided by Sen. Cornyn’s office, the proposal calls for the departments of State and Homeland Security to facilitate the guest worker program and develop standards of enrollment, training, and monitoring of workers.

The plan addresses the realities of our flawed immigration system, Cornyn said, while encouraging undocumented immigrants to “come out of the shadows.”

Sen. Cornyn says that his guest worker plan is “neither an amnesty program, nor a path to citizenship,” but he adds that the legislation recognizes “the reality of our current situation: there are an estimated eight to ten million undocumented individuals living in the United States who are unaccounted for.”

Under Cornyn’s plan, undocumented workers already in the U.S. must apply, in conjunction with their employers, for guest worker status within the first year of the program’s enactment. In subsequent years, workers can apply from their home countries for up to a year at a time for a maximum of three years before returning to their home countries.

“We must make a fresh start with our immigration policy; we must be pragmatic; and we must do more to protect our borders and strengthen our homeland security,” Sen. Cornyn told Talon News. “The guest worker bill I introduced will allow immigrants to work in the U.S. for a limited time, earn skills and capital, then return to their home country.”

Sen. Cornyn says that his plan recognizes that the nation “can no longer tolerate the status quo by turning a blind eye to these gaps in homeland security: millions of immigrants already in the country whose whereabouts and intent are unknown to any law enforcement or homeland security agencies.”

When asked whether this legislation would have the support of conservatives, Cornyn Communications Director Don Stewart told Talon News that great pains were taken to address “flaws in previous programs.”

“We will not support amnesty or ‘earned citizenship,'” Stewart said.

To those who would dismiss a guest worker program in favor of deporting all illegal aliens, Stewart said, “Our nation simply doesn’t have the political will nor resources to round up millions of people and deport them.”

“The status quo is an unacceptable risk that must be corrected immediately,” Cornyn said.

In addressing homeland security concerns, Cornyn said to Talon News, “A significant part of the legislation will be a new, serious enforcement mechanism for those who continue to flout the law, fail to apply for guest worker status, or abuse and exploit immigrants. Border security officials must be given the tools, technology and personnel they need to perform one of our nation’s most critical responsibilities: the defense of our borders.”

“The lack of a realistic immigration policy and ineffective enforcement of existing law, coupled with the new post-9/11 security provisions, could have drastic consequences both in terms of national and economic security,” Cornyn said.

“My plan acknowledges that millions of undocumented men and women go to work every day in America in violation of our immigration law, outside the protection of our labor law, and without any way of our government knowing who, or where they are,” Cornyn added. “This program would allow us to account for immigrants who are no threat to America, and distinguish them from those who are. Our homeland security needs demand that we account for the millions of unknown immigrants living within our borders.”

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