The phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” is seen by many conservatives as nothing more than code for “amnesty” in the case of millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
So U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was careful Thursday during a visit to North Carolina to say he understands and appreciates such critics.
But he did make a point that the Senate immigration plan passed in June should have their support because it prevents millions of law breakers from “getting off scot free.”
Yes, undocumented immigrants will get legal status, he said, but they’ll also be assessed fines that could result in money being deducted for years from their pay checks or income tax refunds.
“The reality is, if I break the law, I’m either going to be put in jail or get fined as a way of acknowledging wrongdoing. That’s what this bill does,” Vilsack said.
“You have to recognize you did wrong, and you’ll do that by paying a penalty or fine. For agriculture workers, it can amount to thousands of dollars. … You also have to pay back taxes that you haven’t paid.”
When it comes to citizenship, undocumented immigrants will go to the end of the line behind those immigrants in the country legally, he said.
The Senate bill also addresses a concern raised by North Carolina’s agricultural industry – that immigrants will abandon farm jobs for better paying work once they have legal status, he said.
“Farmworkers will go to the front of the line (for citizenship), ahead of those (others) who are in the country illegally,” he said, believing that benefit will keep them in place.
It’s estimated there are 1.5 million agricultural workers and their dependents who could earn legal status under the Senate bill.
Vilsack was in North Carolina to visit a school of biotechnology and agriscience in Plymouth. He also stopped by Domtar, a facility that produces biobased materials.
However, Vilsack took the time to speak with reporters “to make a case” for North Carolinians to call their representatives in Congress and push for the comprehensive immigration reform.
Republican members of the House of Representatives have resisted pressure to act quickly on the Senate bill, with the intention of crafting their own solutions.
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