Question 7: How would you address the presence of roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States? What changes would you support to U.S. immigration policy on the whole? What safeguards would you take to ensure that those fleeing persecution will continue to be granted safe haven within our nation's borders? What border security and enforcement measures do you support?
Response from President Obama
Our immigration system has been broken for too long. I believe that comprehensive reform that strengthens our economy and reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. I support legislation-that until recently had bipartisan support-that would invest in border security, hold employers accountable, demand responsibility from undocumented immigrants in return for a path to legal status, and reform the legal immigration system to attract the best and brightest and keep families together. And until Congress acts, my administration is taking important steps to secure our borders and make our immigration laws more fair, efficient, and just. Today, by many measures, the Southwest border is more secure than at any time in the past 20 years. Illegal border crossing are at a 40-year low and the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its 87-year history. For the first time, immigration authorities are prioritizing the deportation of criminals, rather than children who came here through no fault of their own and are pursuing an education.
Response from Governor Mitt Romney
America is a nation of immigrants. Welcoming newcomers who share our ideals and work hard to secure a better life for themselves and their families is part of our heritage. A strong legal immigration system is an integral component of what makes America exceptional. But today, our immigration system is broken. As president, I will propose a national immigration strategy that grows the U.S. economy, secures our borders and discourages illegal immigration, addresses the problem of 11 million illegal immigrants living in America in a civil and resolute manner, and carries on America's tradition as a nation of legal immigrants.
Our immigration system is not optimized for today's economy. The United States is currently excluding too many workers who will start businesses, create jobs, foster innovation, and help grow our economy. For example, the United States is projected to face a shortage of 230,000 science and technology workers by 2018. At the same time, we have set the caps on high-skill visas so low that, for some countries, an entire year's quota has been filled in an hour. As president, I will ask Congress to raise the caps on visas for highly skilled immigrants, including country caps that are keeping some of the best and brightest out of America. Additionally, every foreign student who obtains an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering at a U.S. university should be granted permanent residency.
The current system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers and other seasonal workers is dysfunctional. Employers complain that too often, the harvest passes or tourist season ends before temporary workers are approved. I will eliminate unnecessary requirements and red tape that delay issuance of visas for temporary, seasonal workers. Additionally, I will work with Congress, states, and employers to properly set the cap on non-agricultural temporary worker visas. Many tourist-oriented businesses in the United States rely on these workers and would have to cut back or cease operations if there are not enough visas.
America must take steps to secure our borders and discourage illegal immigration. As president, I will ensure that we have a high-tech fence along our southwest border, I will place enough officers on the ground to secure our border, and I will work to develop an efficient, effective system of exit verification to ensure people do not overstay their visas. To discourage illegal immigration, my Administration will create an effective, mandatory employment verification system. If illegal immigrants know they cannot find jobs, fewer will cross the border and many that are here illegally will leave.
I will ensure that our asylum laws are administered fairly and effectively, so America can continue to serve as a haven for those facing persecution.
An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants live in the shadows in America. I will address this problem in a civil and resolute manner. My Administration will create a system whereby illegal immigrants in America can register, so we know who they are. Those who register will receive a transition period to wind down their affairs in the U.S., and they can get into line to enter the U.S. legally, like the people who have been waiting patiently to immigrate legally. Also, those young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children should have the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, by serving honorably in the United States military.
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