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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

June 7, 2007

Michael Chertoff
For over a generation, our broken immigration system has combined with our robust economy to create unprecedented illegal migration across our border. This has threatened our security, undermined our sovereignty, disrespected our laws, and dishonored the tens of millions of people who obeyed the law by coming here legally.

Moreover, in our post-9/11 world, the stakes have risen dramatically. Now more than ever, if we want to secure our homeland, we must fully secure our borders. We must permanently end the unrestricted flow of illegal immigration.

Equally important, we must deal firmly and sensibly with the millions of immigrants who are already here illegally.

And finally, we must change our immigration law so we can focus more on dangerous people who pose the greatest threat to our society.

What we need is real immigration reform that meets these challenges in comprehensive fashion.

Chris, from California writes:
One question I heard on television has stuck with me for some time about the immigration debate. Namely--if the large, multi-national corporations may go south of the border to find cheap labor, why can't the cheap labor go north of the border to find higher wages?

Michael Chertoff
Well, Chris, our illegal immigration problem is precisely the result of lower-paid workers moving north to pursue greater economic opportunities. Unfortunately, for the past generation, we’ve failed to adjust through stronger border and interior enforcement and through sensible immigration reform. That’s why our comprehensive immigration reform bill, which centers on tougher enforcement, is so vital to our country.

Samuel, from Charlotte, NC writes:
Please Sir, concerning the immigration reform, if it goes through, will people of higher education be made to get their green cards earlier enough? Thanks.

Michael Chertoff
Samuel, our bill will certainly help legal workers with the skills that our country needs to have a better chance to become eligible for a green card. In addition, it may also help those who are already eligible to obtain a green card faster.

Christina, from Flagstaff, AZ writes:
As the head cabinet member in charge of protecting our borders, what do you see that you can do to bring Congress together to vote on a piece of legislation that addresses specifically and solely on securing our borders instead of having them "compromise" on a piece of legislation that the majority of Americans do not want passed?

Michael Chertoff
Christina, what we’ve done through this bill is to ensure that nothing else happens until we can certify that our borders are being secured. We agree fully with your concerns, which is why our bill makes border control paramount.

David, from Ft Worth,Tx writes:
Dear Mr. Chertoff, When the United States is obviously a generous and giving society, especially when the taxes we now pay reflect obligations straining to meet current payouts, why would you oppose controlling the numbers of illegal immigrants and prioritizing national security?

Michael Chertoff
Actually, David, we share your concerns about national security and illegal immigration. That’s why our bill specifically requires that we secure our borders before doing anything else. Once the border is secured, the other provisions in the bill can take effect. These provisions include measures that will strengthen our national security by freeing our law enforcement agents and officers to concentrate even more on apprehending those who pose the greatest danger to our society.

Job, from Mount Vernon NY writes:
My question is I would like to know where is the problem to resolve the immigration reform other words comprehensive immigration reform ? I would like to know if America isn't a immigrant nation ?

Michael Chertoff
America is indeed an immigrant nation, Job, a nation that has always welcomed people who come here legally. But like every other nation, America has the right and the responsibility to ensure its sovereignty and security by requiring people to knock on our front door, rather than sneaking through our back door, if they wish to come inside. Americans have every right to scrutinize our bill to make sure that we’re putting their safety and security and the sovereignty of their country first.

Janet, from Bellevue, Washington writes:
Please tell me why you can not take the simple approach to immigration and build a fence on the southern border, cut holes in port entries, etc and then take up what your going to do with the illegals that are already here? As I see it, believe it or not, the American people generally do not want more illegals coming into this country. Would you want them in your home?

Michael Chertoff
You’re exactly right, Janet, which is why we are insisting in our bill that none of its other provisions go into effect until we secure our borders. One of the things we’re insisting upon before anything else happens is the building of the border fence. But, we also need a temporary worker program to bring economic migrants into a regulated system so that the Border Patrol can focus on gang members, drug dealers and other criminals.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
How is the Senate bill not a form of amnesty? Thank you.

Michael Chertoff
Michael, the Senate bill rejects amnesty and requires that no work visa be issued to anyone who hasn’t come here legally until that person is fully reconciled with the law and has passed an extensive background check. The illegal has to pay a penalty and comply with probation. This is a real penalty. Once that person is issued a work visa, they are subject to deportation if they break any other laws. Moreover, they cannot apply for a green card until eight years after obtaining their work visa. They will have to get in back of the line with everyone else if their goal is permanent residency.

Gordon, from Swansea, IL writes:
Mr Chertoff, I see the current immigration reform bill as one of great importance and very, very complicated with all kinds of unintended consequences possible. I am not in favor of it passing without a lot more debate. All I hear at present is political. My question...why isn't the FENCE that has been authorized to limit the flow of illegal aliens on the southern border being built? Thank you Gordon

Michael Chertoff
Rest assured, Gordon, there is and will be plenty of debate on this bill, on the floor of Congress, in the media, and across the nation. We invite debate, because there are a number of misconceptions about this bill, including the idea that the southern border fence isn’t being built. The bill in fact requires that 370 miles of fencing be completed as one of many conditions that must be met in order for the other provisions to take effect. But, we are doing more than fencing. We are building radars and sensors, and we’re deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- just like our military.

Nick, from Ottawa, Canada writes:
Mr. Secretary. Firstly, let me commend you for the job you've been doing. My question is in relation to this so-called "700-mile fence". Does the United States have any plan to put such a fence around the Canada-US border?

Michael Chertoff
Thank you for your kind words, Nick. Right now, we are focused on areas where we’ve consistently seen the greatest volume of illegal border crossings over a period of years and even decades. In other words, we’re building the fence where it is most needed, along the southwest border.

LEAH, from BAILEY, MS writes:
How is this immigration bill fair? And, fair to whom?

Michael Chertoff
Leah, the immigration bill is fair to the citizens of our country by putting their safety and their security first. In our post-9/11 world, we can’t afford to have completely unrestricted illegal migration across our borders. That’s why our bill insists that border security take precedence over its other provisions. The bill is also tough but fair for those who’ve come here illegally. If they refuse to step out of the shadows, they risk deportation for breaking into our country. If they agree to come forward and be reconciled with the law, and if they have not broken any other laws and are here to work hard, we will require that they get in line with everyone else so they can be eligible to apply for a green card in eight years.

Ron, from Chaney writes:
Why should anyone trust the government to enforce any new amnesty bill when none of the laws of previous bills have been enforced?

Michael Chertoff
Fortunately, Ron, our bill flatly rejects amnesty for those who’ve entered our country illegally. If they are criminals or otherwise pose a threat to our country, we will deport them. But even if they’ve broken no laws besides our immigration laws, they’ll have to pay a specific penalty and submit to a thorough background check. Only then will they be granted a work visa. After eight years, they will have to get in back of the line if they wish to apply for permanent residency.

Even as we pursue reform, we remain committed to enforcing our current laws. Our Border Patrol agents continue to turn people back at our borders, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to apprehend and deport those who are already here illegally, a fact that is frequently depicted on television and sometimes met with howls of protest in the news media.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Chertoff: Immigration reform is a hot and complicated issue. The lastest agreement on this issue seems to be in trouble in Congress. The words LEGAL AND ILLEGAL seems to boil the waters on the issue. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel on this issue? Thank You

Michael Chertoff
Cliff, the alternative to reform is living with an immigration system that virtually everyone agrees is broken.

Since we all agree that it’s broken, there remains hope that Congress will fix it by passing our bill. I’ve spoken to members of Congress at length and have been greatly encouraged by their willingness to lay partisanship aside for the sake of our country and consider our comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Michael Chertoff
I want to thank the White House for hosting our forum and for giving us the opportunity to discuss our country’s immigration challenges.

I especially want to thank President Bush for his continued commitment to fix our immigration system for the benefit of our country and its people. I appreciate the special understanding he brings to the issue by virtue of his being a former governor of Texas, a key border state.

I also appreciate the dedicated efforts of Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, my partner in the effort to convince Congress of the need to reform our immigration laws. And, I especially commend the Senators who have worked so diligently on this bill.

Finally, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to participate in today’s discussion.

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