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Immigration remains hot button
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U.S. Rep John Barrow (D-Savannah) talks about some of the issues during his “Congress on the Corner” on Saturday. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

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U.S. Rep. John Barrow stopped at Lovett's in Rincon on Saturday as part of his "Congress on the Corner" visits.

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There won’t be any major immigration reform attempts until after the 2008 presidential elections, U.S. Rep. John Barrow said.

Barrow (D-Savannah), at Lovett’s Hardware Store in Rincon on Saturday for his “Congress on the Corner” series, said the furor over the controversial Senate bill that died earlier this summer showed the American public’s unhappiness.

“Once the political leadership realized their bosses don’t want to go that way, it was a sign to slow down, and I’m glad for it,” he said. “I feel the vast majority of the voters are not in favor of amnesty, and neither am I.”

In his last “Congress to the Corner” visit to Lovett’s in February, immigration was a hot topic and it was again Saturday afternoon. Barrow reiterated his support for the bill put forth last year by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.).

“It says you’ve got to secure the border,” he said.

Barrow pointed to a fence put up south of San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border that has been effective.

“Ten miles of good fencing has cut down 90 percent of the illegal crossings,” he said.

Barrow said he didn’t “cotton” to the immigration reform bill pushed by both President Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and a bill that also drew support initially from Georgia’s two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

“There’s no major issue where politics makes strange bedfellows like illegal immigration,” Barrow said, noting the philosophical differences between President Bush, a conservative Republican, and Kennedy, a staunch liberal Democrat. “The last time Kennedy and Bush made a deal together was No Child Left Behind. Think that turned out well?”

The backlash Chambliss and Isakson faced, especially from their Republican supporters at home, may have led to a change of heart.

“Isakson and Chambliss ran into a buzzsaw. They got a little persuading,” Barrow said. “I thought (the bill) was a mistake. It was amnesty with a back door. We’ve got to solve the problem at the root cause.”

Fence only part of the solution
Barrow said a measure sponsored by fellow Georgia Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Macon) would phase in certain provisions.
“We’ve got to secure the borders and crack down on the employers who are hiring illegals,” he said. “Once folks know the jobs are shrinking, they will move, they will self-deport. We have to secure the border and put a lock on the jobs.”

Building and manning a fence across a border can be done, Barrow insisted, especially in an area where tensions are high and the economic differences between the two areas are substantial.

“If they can secure the Korean border,” he said, “we can secure ours.”

Illegal aliens aren’t adept at identity theft, Barrow said, but they do produce forged documents using copied Social Security numbers. Being an illegal immigrant isn’t a felony — Barrow remarked he has voted to make that a felony — but producing forged documents is.

While banks and credit card companies have extensive procedures to verify identities, the government doesn’t, other than a pilot program to call and check on suspect Social Security numbers, Barrow said.

“What we’ve got is a culture of noncompliance,” he said. “The problem is it’s being done on a voluntary basis. There’s an incentive not to do it.”

Immigration turns foes to allies
Immigration has brought together unlikely alliances such as Sen. Kennedy and President Bush and also open borders advocates of ordinarily divergent outlooks.

There are three groups, Barrow said, who favor open borders — those who say that fencing the border is impractical and not feasible, those who say the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and owes it to anyone who can get here and businesses seeking vast pools of cheap labor.

Barrow doesn’t buy the first argument, and pointed out problems with the others.

“It’s soft-headed, but good-hearted,” he said. “Then you have the hard-hearted. They want free trade. They are hard-hearted people who want to squeeze as much money as they can out of the workforce.”

The Central America Free Trade Agreement also has not served its purpose, Barrow said. It hasn’t addressed the concern of immigration through its promise to provide jobs in Latin American countries, because it isn’t providing enough jobs to fill the overwhelming demand for employment.

“The policy of exporting jobs to raise the standard of living doesn’t work,” he said. “You can’t do it by feeding 80,000 jobs into an 8 million need.”

Barrow also pointed a finger at the Mexican government.

“They should not be knowingly aiding and abetting their people across the border, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said.

Yet there are some tricky situations when it comes to discerning if illegal immigrants should be denied certain services.

“The one area people look the other way is humanitarian care,” Barrow said. “People are not going to turn a pregnant woman away at the door of the emergency room. We’re a Christian nation.”

Barrow also said he is working on the cost of energy and healthcare. He sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Agriculture Committee.

“Those things are hitting folks,” he said.

The House also is trying to rework the federal portion of the state children’s health insurance program, known as PeachCare in Georgia.

Barrow said Congress wants to make sure states that are doing what they are supposed to be doing, such as Georgia, don’t get funding cut off while other states not following suit, such as Texas, receive more funding.

“We’re trying to fix what’s broken with the formula,” he said.