During my first campaign for Congress in 2004, I heard about immigration often — from American workers afraid of losing their jobs to illegal immigrants, from recent immigrants who wanted to bring their overseas family to America, from parents worried about cross-border drug smuggling, and from a hundred other corners. I listened as carefully as I could, and whenever anyone asked for my view, I answered simply, “Secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
By the time I launched my second Congressional campaign, I found that I needed to change that statement. “Secure our borders and enforce our laws,” I said in 2006, “and please don’t send me hateful e-mails about any group of people.”
In the two intervening years, the immigration debate had somehow devolved into a shouting match. The rhetoric had reached a fever pitch, with each side decrying their opponents as unthinking and un-American.
That’s unfortunate on many levels. Not only can the current debate be mean-spirited and ugly, but it conceals the broad consensus that most Americans share on illegal immigration: that enforcement must be the first plank in any immigration platform.
Back in 1986, when President Reagan signed an amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, he promised swift and tough enforcement of immigration laws. But enforcement never came. Stung by that experience, Kansans throughout my district are skeptical that any new immigration law will be enforced. They want Congress to increase border security and crack down on illegal immigrants before we even consider broader immigration reform.
Most of my constituents also oppose a repeat of the 1986 amnesty debacle. Kansans feel it’s unfair to reward illegal immigrants with special visas or a path to legal citizenship, as is proposed under the Senate’s current Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.
But that isn’t to say that Kansans are opposed to all immigration. Most see America as a nation of immigrants, and they welcome new immigrants into our country — as long as they enter legally, understand our culture and our language, and become productive members of our society.
President Bush has publicly suggested that the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act is the only sensible way forward on immigration. He has even implied that anyone who disagrees with the Senate’s proposal is bigoted. He’s wrong. Most of the people in my district, and I suspect most Americans, oppose the Senate’s wrong-headed reforms. That isn’t bigotry; it’s just Kansas common sense.