SIOUX CITY — Building a border wall at the United States’ southern border with Mexico remains at the forefront of Rep. Steve King’s immigration enforcement efforts, but the Republican congressman said Monday he’s open to letting more migrant workers enter the country under the right conditions.
Addressing a group of Sioux City business leaders, King said he has shared a plan with President Donald Trump that would allow noncitizens to temporarily work in the U.S. by posting a bond, similar to the bail bond system in criminal courts.
“The employer would hire some broker for that labor, and through that process, you could require the temporary laborer to post a bond — the employer would end up posting it — and then when they go home that bond is released,” King told the Sioux City Rotary Club.
King referenced his proposal, which had been introduced in the House as HR6089, or the E-bonding for Immigration Integrity Act of 2018, in response to a question from a Rotary member who suggested allowing more laborers to cross the border to help ease a worker shortage faced by many local employers looking to grow their businesses. The unemployment rate in metro Sioux City dropped to 2 percent in October.
King, whose sons run a Western Iowa earth-moving company, said the family business faces many of the same labor challenges. But the congressman said he is committed to the “rule of law” and remains opposed to a comprehensive immigration overhaul, favored by many politicians, that would give immigrants illegally living in the U.S. a path to citizenship.
Migrant workers provide a crucial supply of labor for the U.S. agriculture industry, with some estimating that nearly half the laborers are in the country illegally. Employers have long lobbied for ways to bring in more guest workers; legislators have disagreed on the best way to reform current programs.
King said many guest workers and other noncitizens who are issued temporary visas, including students and tourists, overstay their permission to be in the U.S. More than 90 percent fail to show up for immigration court hearings, up from the low 80s during the George W. Bush administration, King said.
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The potential loss of a significant cash bond would significantly deter visa overstays, King said. If the bond was forfeited, it would be used by the Department of Homeland Security to administer enforcement programs. King’s proposal would call for a bond from $3,000 to $10,000 per worker, his congressional office later explained.
“If you bring in temporary labor, that means they are supposed to go back home again. ... I want to make people accountable,” the 4th District congressman told the Rotarians.
King’s appearance came the day before the House and Senate return to Washington. After midterm elections that put Democrats in control of the House in January, the stakes have increased in a year-end spending battle. A centerpiece of the partisan fight will be funding for Trump’s proposed border wall for the 2019 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
King, whose outspoken anti-immigration views have put him in the national spotlight, has been a strong proponent of the wall. He even displays a scale model of the barrier in his House office.
In the lame duck session, King said he hopes the House and Senate also strike a deal on a new farm bill and international trade deals, and a new budget to avoid a shutdown before the federal government runs out of money on Dec. 7.