July 30, 2008
MIAMI -- It's unlikely any comprehensive immigration bill will be passed if its creation is left up to Congress, according to the former head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Emilio T. Gonzalez, who stepped down in April and subsequently took the helm at the U.S. subsidiary of Spanish technology firm Indra Sistemas S.A., told The Associated Press that immigration is just too complex and politically charged. He also said he doesn't expect such legislation to emerge early in the next presidential administration.
"Immigration is very difficult, and it's very complex," Gonzalez explained. "You've got to get dirty, and you're going to get beat up. I can't imagine somebody burning political capital in a honeymoon period tackling immigration."
Gonzalez, a native of Cuba who was raised in Florida and has long made Miami his home, looked relaxed in a pink guayabera shirt, as he spoke in an interview Tuesday from his offices at Indra USA about the future of immigration policy. Gone are the days of government suits and being attacked for not doing enough - or doing too much - for immigrants.
He said, ultimately, the nation's president will have to be the one to lead the charge on new immigration legislation.
"I think this will get done when it comes from on high - that is to say when a president really puts it on the line and basically crafts the bill and says: 'Congress, this is what I want,'" Gonzalez told AP from his offices in Miami's financial district.
Gonzalez lamented that the loudest voices in the immigration debate remain on the extremes - either in favor of letting everyone in or trying to keep everyone out while ignoring the roughly 12 million already here illegally.
Gonzalez called it "logistically impossible" to send all illegal immigrants home.
He said he hoped a Senate bill last year that required illegal immigrants pay heavy fines and go to the back of the line in requesting citizenship would help assuage concerns about an amnesty, but the bill failed by 14 votes. Two-thirds of Republican senators voted against it.
"Congress essentially said, 'you haven't done enough on interior enforcement,'" Gonzalez said, adding that recent raids on large U.S. businesses will hopefully change lawmakers' minds.
During his tenure, Gonzalez was criticized particularly by Democrats and immigration groups for huge backlogs in processing citizens that followed a rush of applications in advance of fee hikes. The backup worsened as many immigrants, who tend to vote more Democratic, sought citizenship in time to vote in this year's presidential election.
Gonzalez said he is proud of his two-year tenure, in which he rolled out a new immigration exam with tougher, more relevant questions, added personnel and expanded training. He even went undercover during his early months to test customer service for himself and found it wasn't client-friendly.
Prior to his work at USCIS, Gonzalez headed western affairs at the National Security Council. Now he is preparing a new kind of agency overhaul, beefing up Indra's U.S. operations.
The company registered about $3.4 billion in revenue last year, but only 3 percent of that was in the United States.
The company and its subsidiaries have provided technology around the globe including voting systems for Venezuela, unmanned drones in Europe and the development, along with Russian scientists, of a prototype laser protection system for large aircraft.
One of the company's subsidiaries, based in the Orlando area, has provided aircraft and weapons simulators for the Department of Defense.
Indra USA is separate. The company will focus on technology for toll roads, financial institutions and municipal governments, including simulators for first responders and law enforcement to help them practice driving their vehicles in urban environments during emergencies.
Gonzalez's immigration experience will also come in handy. Indra happens to provide technology for so-called "smart fences," such as the ones in the works for the U.S.-Mexican border, which combine electronic virtual surveillance with a physical barrier in some cases.