Sonny Bono, in the fight over Proposition 187 (the 1994 initiative that would have rescinded welfare benefits for illegal aliens) had the best line about the debate over illegal immigration. Many charges were tossed back and forth about the initiative and the motivation of its sponsors. The response of the future congressman to those charges was always: “What is it about illegal that they don’t understand?”
Like many others, I watched television as the protestors waved their Mexican flags, then changed those flags to American flags, then yelled “Si Se Puede,” then yelled “Yes, We Can,” then demanded the same rights as American citizens, then said they were Americans.
Well, no, they are not. When someone breaks the laws of this country to enter it, for whatever reason, whether it is to work, or obtain free medical care, free food, welfare, a driver’s license, and reduced college tuition, they are still not Americans. We have a legally mandated process, established after years of debate, negotiations, arguments, social consensus, and legal maneuverings to determine how someone becomes a citizen. Until someone follows that process, they are not Americans, not entitled to become Americans, not entitled to claim to be Americans, and not entitled to the rights of Americans.
We are a very generous country. We allow more people than any other country in the world to come into our country legally, stay, and become naturalized citizens. We are second to none in welcoming people from all cultures to join us in the world’s common quest to extend representative government and individual liberty throughout the world. We don’t even really ask that much of people to go through the process. It may take some time, and it is usually stuck in the inevitable bureaucracy, but once someone has completed the process, they are Americans. In France, you can move to France, but you never become French. You can move to China, but you will never become Chinese. If you follow a few simple steps, you can move to the United States and become an American.
One of those steps is not sneaking through the fence, avoiding the law for ten years, receiving thousands of dollars in government aid, and then demanding amnesty for your illegal behavior. Yet, at this time, thousands of people throughout this country are demanding that we make that a legitimate way of becoming an American citizen. In essence, they want to profit from their illegal behavior.
That is just not right. Go home, follow the law, come here legally, and we will welcome you with open arms. Break our laws, and we will be justifiably outraged by your behavior. That is how it is, and how it ought to be.
I tried to qualify the California Border Police last year to do one simple thing—enforce federal immigration law, mainly because the federal government was refusing to do so. It sparked a national debate on the question of enforcement, and we are seeing that debate play itself out in Washington today. Enforcement of the law is the right thing to do. If we find that the law doesn’t work, that we need a larger labor pool, then we debate the best way to accomplish that goal. But, if we don’t enforce the laws we have now, it won’t matter what laws we have in the future. We will still fail to have an immigration policy.
The first thing that makes anyone a good American is their ability to follow the law. That is all anyone is asking these protestors to do. It is not that hard, and, if they do it, we will all be their good friends and neighbors.
This article was first published at CaliforniaRepublic.org. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.