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America Needs an Immigration Policy That Rewards Those Who Abide by the Law

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Maryland, February 27, 2015. |

If the last few weeks have proven anything, it is that bombast trumps substance. Literally.

The national media's infatuation with Donald Trump and his "blunt" rhetoric, particularly regarding illegal immigration, has been wall-to-wall. Lost has been the broader issue of immigration and its impact on America - namely the American worker.

Immigration and border security must be addressed by our next President, and it must be a prominent part of the national debate over the next two years. Yet it is clear that this Administration, and sadly this Congress, has no intention of addressing an issue so vital to our economic and national security.

The President had filibuster proof majorities in Congress his first two years in office, majorities so strong that he was able to ram through his monstrosity of ObamaCare despite overwhelming public criticism - yet he never even introduced an immigration reform bill. For the President to attack Republicans today for not addressing this problem is disingenuous at best, identity politics at its worst.

The liberal left wants to provide amnesty and exponentially increase the influx of immigrant workers because they see a way to increase their power at the ballot box. But the business wing of the Republican Party sees immigrant workers as a way of diluting the labor market and lowering labor costs. To them, workers are commodities and by increasing the labor supply we lower wages.

People are not commodities and this is not about electoral power. Workers are real people, with real families, who have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed, and they deserve leaders who will prioritize them first.

Over the past twenty years, nearly 35 million legal and illegal immigrants have come to our shores. This is the largest mass immigration America has seen in our history - even surpassing the Great Wave from the turn of the 20th Century. These immigrants are largely unskilled and low-skilled labor and they are competing for the same jobs as the 74% of Americans who do not have a college degree.

Because labor supply and demand works, corporate profits are up and executives are doing well. But the American worker has seen their wages stagnant for over a decade. The American worker is struggling and as a result the American family is struggling.

The American family is the first economy - just like a business, each family needs revenue, pays expenses, and at the end of the month the books must balance. As families struggle in this ever competitive labor market, we must make sure our policies do not enact further roadblocks and dead ends to their ability to succeed. We must rebuild this first economy, and one step is to ensure we have a responsible immigration policy that puts the American worker and their families first.

That is why I don't just speak about securing our borders. Yes, we must secure our border and we must fully implement e-verify so the market for illegal immigrants to hold jobs American workers would otherwise hold is closed, but we must do more.

There are over one million legal immigrants coming into America each year, and most of my fellow Republican presidential candidates have proposed increasing this number even further. I don't. I believe we need to reduce our legal immigration levels by 25%.

I believe immigration can be a very good thing. But as with anything, there can also be too much of a good thing. When our labor markets cannot manage the influx we are receiving, then it is time to recalibrate. This is not anti-immigrant, it is common-sense because stagnant wages and joblessness is not good for anyone regardless of race, gender, or immigration status.

This starts by reforming a chain immigration system that allows not only a new immigrant, their spouse, and their minor children to come to America - but also their parents, siblings, and adult children as well.

And our visa programs must be reformed. In particular, the H1-B visa program must be reformed so that only the highest skilled workers come to America, stimulate the economy, and create more jobs here at home. Too many foreign programmers and tech workers are utilizing this program and are taking jobs that Americans could fill. We saw this when Disney laid off Americans and replaced them with cheap foreign labor and when Southern California Edison had its American workers train their foreign replacements before firing them. Under my Administration, this will end.

We must also end the visa lottery system because America should be earned, not won. I am the grandson of an Italian immigrant who had to wait 7 years to earn his citizenship before finally bringing my father to join him in America. Whenever I asked my father if he resented American laws separating him from his father at such an early stage in his life, he said no "America was worth the wait."

America is worth the wait and it is worth doing it right. This means we need an immigration policy that rewards those who do it right, an immigration policy that fits our economic needs, and an immigration policy that puts the American worker first.

That will be my policy as President.

This column was originally published in The Iowa Republican.

Rick Santorum is a former U.S. Senator and GOP candidate for President.

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