SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney wants Congress to figure out a way to reduce the incentive for people coming to the United States illegally to protect jobs for American workers.
Speaking at a Senate hearing Thursday morning, the Utah Republican said he learned from the head of the border patrol agents union on a trip to San Diego that the “job magnet” draws people to the U.S. because they can make more money than in their home country.
“His point was, yes, it’s important to have a wall built to make it more difficult for people to cross into our country illegally,” Romney said. “But if we really want to stop the amount of illegal immigration that comes in and takes American jobs, we’re going to have to have an effective way to prevent people from getting American jobs if they’re here illegally.”
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, called Romney’s comments “spot on.”
Morgan said that “absolutely, without a doubt” the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants come to the U.S. for economic reasons.
“It’s not hyperbole fact. It’s a fact,” he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Congress must pass meaningful legislation to address those incentives and to hold employers accountable if they hire people who are in the country illegally, Morgan said.
“If we do not do that, they will continue to come. No matter how bad our economy is in this country, it’s worse elsewhere, and that’s what we’re seeing right now with COVID,” he said. “If not, they will just keep coming.”
Romney said he is pushing to make E-verify, a web-based system that allows businesses to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S., mandatory. He said he wants to penalize companies that don’t use the system “just like we do if they don’t pay their taxes, they get in trouble.”
Romney, who supports President Donald Trump’s border wall, said illegal immigration isn’t fair to the millions of people who want to come to the country and do so legally. He thanked Morgan and the border patrol for “protecting our workforce from those who would take jobs that they’re not qualified or authorized to take.”
Romney also asked Morgan about how to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.
“As long as there’s people here willing to spend a lot of money to buy drugs, the drugs are going to find a way to get into this country either through the mail system or through tunnels people dig or in the ocean or in aircraft, they will find a way,” he said.
Morgan said the U.S. is not going to “seize our way out of this drug problem,” adding drug smugglers are using every technique they can. Officials need to not only target criminals bringing in drugs, but the demand side as well, he said.
“If we’re going to solve this problem, it has to be a simultaneous attack,” Morgan said.
Thursday’s hearing came two days after Morgan accompanied Trump to a section of border wall in Arizona marking the completion of 200 miles of barrier. The administration plans to build 450 miles by the end of the year.