My grandfather immigrated to this country from Belgium, landing at Ellis Island almost exactly 99 years ago. Like all immigrants, he came here in search of the American Dream and to provide a better life for his family.
Our genesis as a nation began with immigrants, and throughout our history immigrants have added to the richness of our culture and the strength and vibrancy of our economy. And God willing, they will continue to do so.
But, just as immigration is one of the things that makes our nation great, so too is the rule of law. The rule of law is critical because it represents what is so intrinsically American — regardless of one’s station in life, you must respect and abide by the laws of the land.
And the rule of law, that contract we all enter into as citizens, is what distinguishes America from many of the third rate dictatorships and weak democracies from which so many around the world are trying to flee. If we send the message that the rule of law no longer matters in America, we risk losing the very essence of who we are as a nation — what has made us a beacon of hope to those who seek freedom throughout the world.
As the population of illegal immigrants continues to grow, the American public is growing increasingly angry at the realization that for decades the federal government has deliberately refused to enforce immigration laws. I believe illegal immigration is rapidly becoming the defining political issue of our times. Americans take seriously the grave threat to our national and economic security posed by our open borders and they are insisting that their leaders do something about it.
I believe the approach we took in the House more accurately reflects the views of the vast majority of Americans. It dramatically increases the number of enforcement agents, it authorizes the construction of fences where we have been totally unable to prevent illegal crossings, and it utilizes better technology to improve enforcement.
But protecting our borders is only one piece of the puzzle. We must also shut off the magnet that is drawing illegals here by the millions. For far too long, we have turned a blind eye toward employers who knowingly hire illegals. The House bill puts a stop to that by requiring employers to verify the identity and legal status of all potential employees. And it imposes real sanctions on employers who knowingly employ illegals.
Finally, we must address the question of the 12 million to 16 million people already here illegally. Let me be perfectly clear, any plan that does not require illegal immigrants to leave the United States, return to their home country, and re-enter in an orderly and legal fashion is amnesty and should be rejected by policy makers. Simply saying that a plan does not contain amnesty does not make it so. The privilege of living in the United States can only be earned by respect for the rule of law. When one’s presence in our country itself was achieved by breaking the law, no amount of wrist slapping is going to make it legal or honorable.
This week the Senate will begin to move their version of immigration reform. From what I’ve seen and heard thus far, I am not optimistic about the likely outcome of that endeavor. In all likelihood it will be an amnesty bill with insufficient border security measures. If this is the case it will be critical that a conference committee make dramatic changes and that the final bill looks much more like the House passed legislation. Too much time has already passed awaiting Congress to secure our borders, protect our citizenship, and enforce our immigration laws. The American people know what should be done. Hopefully, Congress is listening.