There has been a major shift toward pro-enforcement policies in the United States, diminishing the prospect of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Critics of pro-enforcement policies allege that is anti-immigrant, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Favoring the rule of law isn't mean-spirited or racist - it is the very foundation of the United States and is at the core of why America can welcome immigrants.
We have by far the most generous legal immigration system in the world, admitting 1 million immigrants each year. That has always been a net benefit for the United States. However, illegal immigration puts a strain on our economy, schools and hospitals and even poses serious national security threats. Enforcing all of our laws - including immigration laws - is critical to our success and sovereignty as a nation.
Immigration laws do not discriminate against individuals based on their color, creed, gender or ethnic background. Instead, the law makes a distinction between law-keepers and lawbreakers. A crime is a crime, no matter who commits it.
Many pro-enforcement policies actually would reduce discrimination. Take E-Verify, for example. This remarkably successful program enables companies to hire legal workers by verifying the Social Security numbers provided by new employees. E-Verify does not ask ethnicity or race. It simply makes sure the person's name, date of birth and Social Security number or alien identification number match. If they do, the process is over. If they don't and the person has a legal right to work in the United States, the employee then has an opportunity to resolve the discrepancy, which most do successfully within a few days.
E-Verify opens up job opportunities for citizens and legal immigrants by turning off the jobs magnet that encourages illegal immigration. If illegal immigrants can no longer live and work in the United States, many will simply return home voluntarily, and taxpayer dollars will be saved.
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, illegal immigration costs American taxpayers $113 billion annually. This amounts to $1,117 per household to pay for the health care, education, welfare and incarceration of illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigration drains states' budgets, too. California is expected to have a $25 billion budget shortfall by June 2012. At the same time, illegal immigration costs the Golden State nearly $22 billion each year. If immigration laws were fully enforced, California's budget deficit would nearly be eliminated.
Pro-enforcement supporters believe it is wrong for Americans to bear these exorbitant costs. By reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States, we can reduce the financial burden on American taxpayers.
Critics say pro-enforcement policies harm the Republican Party's future with Hispanic voters, but the facts prove otherwise.
The November midterm election results repudiated the open-borders philosophy and revealed a promising future for the Republican Party. Exit polls showed 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates. This historically high level of Hispanic support for Republican candidates came despite widespread pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that a new Arizona immigration law and a pro-rule-of-law stand would undercut Hispanic support for Republicans.
Those against the pro-enforcement movement also use inaccurate generalizations insinuating that Hispanic voters support amnesty. In fact, many Hispanic voters support efforts to enforce our immigration laws. Republican Latino candidates in Florida, New Mexico and Nevada - all of which have large Hispanic populations - won statewide races while calling for enhanced border security and enforcement of immigration laws instead of amnesty.
The pro-enforcement movement is not strictly Republican - it is American. And it is not anti-Hispanic - it is pro-rule-of-law. Time and again American voters have overwhelmingly defeated amnesty attempts, including the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform and last year's push for the DREAM Act. To attract even more Hispanic voters in the future, Republicans should continue to emphasize our shared values of economic opportunity, national security and education.
The United States was founded upon the rule of law, and pro-enforcement policies uphold this American legacy. The Internal Revenue Service enforces tax law even though the majority of Americans do not enjoy paying taxes. Why? Because all Americans are required to play by the same rules.
The same goes for immigration laws. Amnesty sends the message to illegal immigrants and illegal border-crossers that we do not take our immigration laws seriously. That undoubtedly would lead to unsustainable levels of illegal immigration. We are a nation of immigrants, but in order to sustain the high levels of legal immigration we have, immigration laws must be enforced. Allowing millions to evade our laws is unfair and hurts American workers and taxpayers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
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