One of the most important conservative principles is the dedication to the rule of law — that ideal that a nation's laws are necessary for the protection and preservation of its citizens' freedoms. Perhaps nowhere is this conservative ideal more directly under attack than with regard to immigration policy in America.
The attack on the rule of law approaches from three fronts: by the Obama administration, which ignores its responsibility to enforce the nation's laws; by open-borders advocates who push for an all-out moratorium on the enforcement of the laws; and by both the administration and advocates who favor amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants through "comprehensive immigration reform."
The great irony is that American freedoms and the rule of law are often the very reason that many illegal immigrants try to come here. They are literally running from nations historically characterized by an absence of the rule of law and towards the freedom that America offers. And while we can sympathize with their desire for freedom, we cannot allow them to break down the very institutions that make America free and a beacon to immigrants from around the world.
So how should conservatives deal with this three-headed monster? And how will our individual commitment to conservative values impact the broader future of conservatism in America?
First, we need to dispense with the false notion that enforcing immigration laws will somehow drive immigrant voters — including Hispanics — away from conservative candidates.
In fact, Hispanics, who make up the largest portion of legal immigrants to America, share many of our conservative values. According to a Pew/Kaiser poll, Hispanic voters are more conservative than non-Hispanics. More than whites, they disapprove of abortion, homosexuality and divorce. Hispanics — both native-born and legal immigrants — also share the fundamental values of patriotism, rule of law, freedom, family, support for small businesses and jobs, and education.
Second, conservatives must be assertive with the facts. We cannot allow liberal open-borders advocates to insult America by suggesting that U.S. immigration policy is anything but generous. The United States has a wonderful tradition of welcoming newcomers, admitting more than 1 million legal immigrants a year, far more than any other country. About 38 million immigrants now live in the U.S. They form the highest percentage of our population in almost a century.
Not only does America benefit immigrants, but immigrants benefit America. Immigrants are laborers, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, inventors, scientists, CEOs and politicians. There is a difference, though, between those who respect America's laws and wait in line to enter the U.S. the right way, and those who break our laws by entering the U.S. illegally.
The good news for conservatives is that through adherence to the rule of law, we will do right by citizens and legal immigrants.
In the face of suggestions that we are somehow callous if we do not throw our nation's laws out and grant amnesty, we must remember that it is the immigrant communities who are hit the hardest by those who enter illegally. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, low-skilled workers lose an average of $1,800 a year because of competition with illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants depress their wages and take their jobs, just like they do the wages and jobs of American workers.
Whether for discrete economic reasons or for deeper a commitment to our nation's founding principles, the proper approach to immigration policy is a conservative one.
It is by adherence to the founding principles — including the rule of law — that we will continue to be a strong, vibrant America. If we abandon our principles because defending them seems too difficult, we risk making America indistinguishable from the nations that too many immigrants want to leave.
• Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.