U.S. can't make illegal immigration a legal act


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 11:58 p.m.

President Bush recently outlined a temporary work program that would allow 8 million illegal aliens to stay in the United States without penalty and eventually to apply for permanent legal residence and citizenship.

I oppose this plan because it turns a blind eye on those who broke our nation's laws, and because it will encourage even more illegal immigration.

Where he envisions a guest-worker program, I see another amnesty for more than 8 million who are in our nation illegally. Since 1986, Congress has passed seven amnesties for illegal aliens, yet the problem still persists.

However, this proposal helps the country in two important ways: It calls attention to the serious problems of our porous borders and illegal immigration. There are a number of reasons to oppose this misguided policy, and one is fairness.

Each year, people throughout the world immerse themselves in the difficult process of legally immigrating to the United States. This is a multi-step process.

First, you must be eligible for immigration. Our immigration system is based on family reunification, needed work skills, employment creation and recognition of refugees. In some cases, it takes years to enter the United States legally.

The American way is to follow the law and to take your turn, not to sneak across the border. True, America is a nation of immigrants; it also is a nation of laws and it is fundamentally wrong to reward those who break the law to be in this nation.

First of all, illegal immigrants commit a crime by entering this nation. Then, many of them break the law again by getting employment illegally; again, by using falsified documents, and again, by avoiding the payment of taxes.

I am a member of the Immigration Reform Caucus in Congress, a forum promoting greater government action in addressing immigration. The events of Sept. 11 underscore the need to secure our borders and to recognize the threat posed by those pouring into our nation.

Mahmud Abouhalima entered the United States illegally, but was granted amnesty in 1986. This aspiring American citizen went on to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.

We need to be serious about protecting our borders and that means serious consequences for illegal aliens and those who employ them. This is not a problem that stops at the border. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) understands this and developed a strategy to tackle illegals beyond the border.

The ICE interior enforcement strategy covers the detention and removal of criminal aliens, dismantling and diminishing smuggling or the trafficking of aliens, minimizing immigration benefits and document fraud, and blocking and removing employers' access to undocumented workers. However, the president's proposal undermines this aggressive policing of our immigration laws.

Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, between 40 percent and 50 percent of wage loss among low-skilled American workers is due to illegal immigration.

In addition, nearly 2 million American workers are displaced in their jobs each year and the cost of providing welfare and assistance to these illegal immigrants is more than $15 billion a year.

What are the solutions to this problem? The nation should increase the manpower and resources dedicated to patrolling our borders. In addition, we should deploy new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles to help apprehend smugglers and trespassers.

Also, we should support the ICE's interior enforcement strategy and enact stiffer fines and penalties for employers hiring illegal aliens.

Consider this statement by Mexico President Vincente Fox noting the central reason for illegal immigration into the United States: "Unfortunately, they don't have the opportunities that they would like to have as persons, so that's why they move."

It is not the United States alone in need of reform, but Mexico as well. Our neighbor to the south suffers a number of economic problems that hamper growth and encourage illegal immigration to the United States.

The banking system in Mexico is weak and undercapitalized, and interest rates are high. The political situation there discourages private investment in the growing electric generating and distribution system.

The judicial system often resolves disputes between companies through other means than applying the law. In addition, the education system in Mexico is not producing skilled labor for a global economy.

Vital reforms in Mexico will break down the barriers to economic growth and provide more and better opportunities for the people of Mexico. Similar reform in other regional countries will reduce the incentive to make the difficult trek north.

The president's plan, although convenient, merely postpones our reckoning with a situation in which more than 8 million people are here illegally.

On the grounds of jobs, national security, fairness and standing behind the law of the land, we must control our borders and deport illegal immigrants.

Rep. Cliff Stearns represents a portion of Alachua County in the U.S. Congress.

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