The country’s immigration system is a “byzantine mess” that Congress needs to fix, Rep. Greg Walden said Thursday at a Hermiston Rotary Club meeting.
Walden advocated for a comprehensive legislative package featuring stronger border security, a better visa system, an overhaul of the legal immigration process and a permanent solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“I’m actually glad the president put a hot rock in our pockets to get it done in the next six months,” he said, referring to President Donald Trump’s decision to begin phasing out DACA.
Walden said for a legal immigration system to work, a country must be able to control its borders with a combination of tactics, including physical barriers and patrols.
“You’re never going to have a wall across the whole thing,” he said. “That just doesn’t make sense.”
Not all undocumented immigrants are walking across the Mexican border, however. Walden said 45 percent of undocumented immigrants got into the country on a temporary visa, then overstayed that visa. There are tens of thousands of immigrants like that from Ireland alone, he said.
“We have a broken visa system,” he said.
There are plenty of questions that need answered in an immigration overhaul. As tens of thousands of jobs in technical fields go unfilled because companies can’t find qualified applicants, Walden questioned whether it makes sense to give so many of the country’s legal immigration spots to people chosen by lottery or based purely on a family connection. He also questioned whether the country should be “booting out” young people who could be helping fill those skilled jobs.
“What do you do with kids who, through no fault of their own, have been here since they were in diapers, and have been a good part of their community?” he asked.
Another hot topic Walden took questions about Thursday was cybersecurity. After North Korea’s nuclear weapons, he said cyber warfare was the biggest threat to national security. Much of what is being done is classified, Walden said, but he could say that as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, after “every one of the briefings I go to, I feel a little bit better.”
Cybersecurity in the private sector is more difficult for Congress to deal with. Walden said Equifax CEO Richard Smith has been asked to testify in front of the Committee on Energy and Commerce about the massive security breach the company recently experienced, which may have exposed the social security numbers of more than 143 million people. He said it was frustrating to read in the media that the company had used “admin” as both the username and password for one database.
“I can’t fix stupid,” he said. “I can punish it, but I can’t fix it.”
During lunch with the Rotary Club Walden also gave a rundown of some of the issues he has been working on. The Committee on Energy and Commerce is working with the Food and Drug Administration on a regulatory overhaul that will allow new drugs to reach the market faster. The committee re-authorized and re-wrote the “Brownfield sites” program that assists communities in cleaning up industrial lands that are contaminated but below the level of a Superfund site. They approved safe drinking water legislation that appropriates $8 billion over 5 years to combat lead contamination through means like replacing old drinking fountains at schools.
They also sent legislation to the House floor that would take nuclear waste stored in “oddball” locations around the country and seal it up in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.
“It’s secure in theory, but it ought to be permanently secure in Yucca Mountain,” Walden said.
He said he has also been working with companies in Silicon Valley and Detroit to find a way forward on regulating self-driving cars. Walden said cars have always been regulated “bumper to bumper” at the federal level, so that cars purchased in one state can be legally driven in any other, and he believes self-driving technology should be handled the same way.
“The car of the future will be a computer with doors and wheels,” he said.
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