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Tue, Oct. 15

Editorial: Immigration calls for action

While health care and the economy continue to toil and dominate every American discussion from chambers of Congress to dinner tables, reform of another kind still dominates Arizona - immigration.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave a border battle update Friday, which included a call to Congress to strengthen the laws of the land.

Consider that at least 12 million people are living in America illegally, according to the former Arizona governor. And news to no one, legal citizens are subsidizing their stay.

More locally, the Arizona Hospital and Health care Association reports that providing care to illegal immigrants costs state hospitals about $150 million annually. Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that many of the people who will remain uninsured - even if health care legislation gets its approval - will be illegal immigrants. Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh says that illegals jailed for criminal acts or under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold average 11 percent of the jail population. With a $16 million annual jail budget, that means they are taking up $1.76 million out of that budget annually.

In early 2007 when The Daily Courier published a multi-part series on "The Cost of Immigration," criminal justice officials said the cost of prosecuting illegal immigrants was about $6.6 million in early January of that year. The cost for translators increased in one year from $57.000 to $207,330. In that same January 122 illegals were among the 2,000 individuals on supervised or intensive probation in the county and 127 illegals were among the 600 individuals on unsupervised probation.

It's a situation Napolitano on Friday called "a status quo that is simply unacceptable."

As for the Department of Homeland Security, it's making progress.

The DHS has expanded the Secure Communities program, which identifies illegal aliens booked into local jails. Thursday marked the end of the first year for the program, which 95 jurisdictions use and has identified more than 111,000 criminal aliens. To crack down on illegal labor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement audited more employers suspected of hiring illegal labor in a single day in July than it had audited in all of 2008. And by expanding the E-Verify system - an Internet-based system that allows participating employers to verify electronically the employment eligibility of new hires - the program has grown at the rate of nearly 2,000 employers per week.

Those are the security measures. Now we need tougher laws from our legislators.

"In order to have fully effective law enforcement, we need Congress to create the legal foundation for bringing the millions of illegal immigrants in this country out of the shadows, require them to register and pay all taxes they owe, and enforce the penalties that they will have to pay as part of earning legal status," Napolitano said. "Let me emphasize this: we will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows."

Catching illegal activity in the act is one thing. What we do then defines our solution.

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