Like much political discourse today, the immigration debate has devolved into hyperpartisan rancor that stymies any productive results. This is unfortunate. The only way to make progress for Pennsylvanians is to put the party politics aside and focus on the basic, commonsense principles we can all agree on.
In the immigration debate, I have supported policies that have garnered bipartisan support. For example, most people agree that certain levels of legal immigration are good, but we must regain control over who enters, and remains inside, our country; and we should not allow partisan gridlock to prevent Congress from acting on pressing public safety issues.
America has long benefited from legal immigration and the contributions of those who have come to this country willing to work hard and build a better life for themselves and their families. Almost all Americans have some connection to our immigrant history, and my family is no different. My father's parents came from Ireland and my mother's grandparents came from Portugal. My ancestors decided to uproot their lives and make the arduous journey across the world because of the grim prospects in their home countries and the unparalleled freedom in America. They arrived with very little education, no money, and few skills, but their willingness to make sacrifices and work hard provided me with the opportunities that I, along with my parents, siblings, and now children, benefit from today.
America should still welcome legal immigrants like my grandparents and great-grandparents who want to work hard and make our country stronger. Unfortunately, far too often, people choose to jump the line and come here illegally. People who come here illegally or overstay their visas challenge our security and undermine our confidence in legal immigration. Addressing this issue begins with securing our borders, through a smart and cost-effective combination of physical barriers, patrol agents, and high-tech surveillance.
In 2013, the Senate considered legislation that would have guaranteed the next wave of illegal immigration because it did not provide adequate avenues for legal entry, a fact confirmed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Democratic leadership refused to allow a vote on many proposals introduced by my colleagues and me that could have improved this legislation, and it predictably failed to garner the support needed to become law. Then, instead of working to identify common ground, President Obama attempted to circumvent Congress with unconstitutional executive actions, further entrenching opposite sides of this increasingly acrimonious debate.
In the meantime, uncompromising and partisan politicians have been trying to use the lack of "comprehensive immigration reform" as an excuse to ignore urgent public safety matters like sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities, like Philadelphia, refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials when they have a dangerous criminal who is an illegal immigrant in their custody.
These policies are enacted by local politicians who wish to cater to extreme special interests. Defying all commonsense, they explicitly forbid their own law enforcement departments from this constructive cooperation. We have unfortunately seen the tragic consequences of allowing sanctuary cities right here in Philadelphia.
On July 26, Philadelphia police arrested Ramon Aguirre-Ochoa, a 45-year old Honduran national in the United States illegally, for raping a child under the age of 13. This man should have never been on Philadelphia's streets. He is an illegal immigrant who had already been deported in 2009, only to reenter the U.S. illegally. Last year, Philadelphia had Aguirre-Ochoa in custody. Homeland Security asked the city to hold him so it could pick him up and deport him. But because Philadelphia is a sanctuary city, Philadelphia law enforcement was forced to release Aguirre-Ochoa, allowing him to roam free and eventually a young child was raped.
Unconscionable results like these are why we have seen officials from both parties, including the Obama administration, former Mayor Michael Nutter, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and 22 Democratic members of the state House, call for an end to these dangerously flawed sanctuary city policies. In the Senate, I have authored legislation that has received bipartisan support to withhold certain federal funding from sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.