Opinion Pieces

No Amnesty for Lawbreakers

Yes, ours is a nation of immigrants, but it is a nation of laws, too

It is often said that "America is a nation of immigrants." While I agree with this, there is another important point that must not be ignored: America is a nation of laws. These two realities are on a collision course this week as the U.S. Senate debates measures to reform our broken immigration system.

Illegal immigration threatens our national security and strains our healthcare facilities, schools and social services. The U.S. House stepped up to the plate in December 2005 and passed a strong immigration reform bill that increases border security and takes amnesty off the table. Now it is time for the Senate to respond to the growing problem of illegal immigration and do what's best for the legal immigrants and citizens of this country.

Our first line of defense against illegal immigration is increasing border security. President Bush outlined a plan Monday night to deploy nearly 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern U.S. border in an effort to provide material support to our border patrols. Even with this added security, our borders remain porous and vulnerable.

The 12 million illegal aliens in this nation will attest to the ease with which people can cross into our country, unabated and undocumented. The illegal immigration debate implicitly involves a national security angle; if illegal aliens can negotiate our border with little difficulty, why will terrorists not do the same?

I plan to introduce legislation this week that will give border states the opportunity to use Homeland Security grant money to fund their own fence construction projects. Securing our borders – by constructing fences, bolstering our border patrols and improving our surveillance capabilities – is the first, and most important, step in halting the massive influx of foreign trespassers. This relies on the same principle that you have to patch-up the holes in a ship before it stops sinking.

The immigration reform debate begins at the borders, but by no means ends there. There is the question of what to do with the illegal aliens who are already here. Amnesty is not the answer. To grant amnesty to these trespassers is to say "You crossed our borders illegally, you broke our laws and now we are rewarding you with U.S. citizenship – congratulations!" This is unacceptable; it undermines our legal system and calls into question the very rules and regulations that bind together a civil society.

A guest worker program is nothing more than amnesty wearing make-up – it's easier to look at, but just as ugly underneath. The simple truth is that if you break the law to come to this country, you will not respect it once you’re here. Giving illegal immigrants a "get out of jail free card" – both literally and figuratively – is hypocritical governing and a blatant example of leadership falling asleep at the wheel.

Providing amnesty to illegal immigrants is a slap in the face to immigrants who came to our nation and faced head-on the process of becoming legal citizens. These immigrants deserve our respect; they are Americans just like you and me. We must make the process of becoming a legal citizen more efficient and reasonable so that other immigrants can follow suit – the right way. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services currently processes seven million immigration applications per year using Windows 95 and paper printouts – this system is flawed and inefficient. It is high time we replaced our outdated bureaucratic procedures with updated technology.

I introduced the Comprehensive Immigration D.A.T.A . Act (H.R. 4412) to modernize the immigration application process by creating a federal computerized database that more efficiently and effectively tracks immigrants applying for visas or U.S. citizenship. Closing the technological gap will equip law enforcement with better tools for enforcing immigration laws and expedite the services to legal immigrants. It is time for America to step into the 21st century to account for those who are stepping over our borders.

The House's no-nonsense immigration reform bill is a better approach to solving the immigration reform problem – it strengthens our borders and turns its back on amnesty. The next step on the path to true immigration reform is to upgrade America's outdated system for processing immigration case files. These reforms are milestones of progress, pointing to a time when we can be confident that the system we have works.

For now, we are standing at the crossroads between what comprises America – immigrants and laws. As a nation, we must make certain that the second is strong so that the first will continue to flourish.