Last week President Bush gave a primetime television speech addressing what has become a contentious debate on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks — the problem of illegal immigration. At the Center for a Just Society, we were pleased to see the President articulate in his proposal all three of our criteria for comprehensive reform: 1) increased border security, 2) a balanced approach toward illegal immigrants already here, and 3) penalties for businesses who exploit immigrants.
We should be careful to avoid moving too quickly into debating the details of various temporary-worker programs, and giving short shrift to the incredibly important question of border control. As we have repeatedly stated, securing our borders should be the primary focus of any immigration reform proposal. It should be more than a mere footnote to a larger immigration bill.
The President has taken an important step in the direction of border enforcement by calling for National Guard troops, barriers and improved technologies. What remains to be seen is whether the border enforcement mechanisms suggested will be enough to get the job done. The numbers suggest that the ratio of Border Patrol guards to illegal immigrants, even with the suggested addition of 6,000 National Guardsmen, still leaves us in a vulnerable position. We must do whatever it takes to control our borders.
Americans should never forget that we are at war with evil people committed to our destruction. Terrorists will use any means necessary to enter our country and wreak as much havoc as possible. National security imperatives dictate that we know who is crossing our border and why. Therefore, border control is essential, everything else comes second.
Apart from national security interests, there are other important reasons to control our borders. Illegal immigrants are putting a serious strain on our social welfare programs. These programs have limited resources, and when resources are being consumed by those who are here illegally, American taxpayers do not receive the services for which they pay. Until we secure our borders, and achieve a measurable reduction in illegal cross-border traffic, these strains on the provision of social services caused by illegal immigrants will continue.
Stopping businesses from employing illegal immigrants is also important. Respect for human dignity and the rule of law demand that we punish businesses who hire illegal workers at unjust wages and employ them in inhumane conditions. Additionally, illegal immigration artificially suppresses wages for Americans by interrupting normal market mechanisms. Businesses are able to employ these immigrants at wages the market would not normally permit. The willingness of illegal immigrants to work for wages lower than the American market will bear means that Mexico’s market conditions set the bar for U.S. wages. That is profoundly unfair since the conditions in Mexico’s labor market are significantly different than those found in the U.S.
Careful analysis needs to be done regarding the methods of assimilating the illegal immigrants already here. The argument we have made over the last few weeks has been based on both prudential and moral reasoning. On the morality end of the spectrum, America needs to weigh the demands of justice (laws have been broken, as the term "illegal" implies) and the opportunity for redemption. As the President said, most immigrants come to America, not because they want to hurt anybody, but because they want to feed their family and work hard, following the dream that has brought millions to our shores over the decades. While respecting the rule of law, we have a wonderful opportunity to invite such hard working immigrants to do the right thing and make the relationship legal. By charging fines and requiring the payment of back-taxes, we affirm that lawbreakers are held accountable. By providing the opportunity for a legal future in America, we demonstrate that America is still the land of opportunity, where past mistakes can be redeemed.
Every political debate requires careful, prudential reasoning, and recognition of the moral questions in play. As the President pointed out, "We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say." Human dignity, justice, compassion, security, redemption, fairness: "faith and values voters" should remember that every political debate is a debate about moral visions, and they should not fail to participate in it.
For more analysis, check out these studies from the Heritage Foundation: