- - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Few know about Israel’s illegal-immigrant predicament in recent years. Although this issue presented our country with significant challenges, we have worked hard and done something about it.

Over the past decade or so, Israel has become known as an oasis of internationally successful high-tech startup companies. This has led to an unending number of businessmen and entrepreneurs who come here to learn about our locally developed innovations that are used all over the world. Perhaps it is time for some key decision makers involved in the American immigration debate to come over and observe our very effective solutions to this problem that concerns many Americans.

While the international community often chooses to focus on traditional and terrorist threats against Israel, the issues of illegal infiltration from Africa presented the Jewish state with another national security dilemma. Since 2005 alone, more than 60,000 sub-Saharan Africans have illegally crossed our southern border after trekking thousands of miles across the continent and then finally through Egypt. This may not sound like a large amount of people to Americans or even Europeans, but for a country of slightly more than 6 million, continual immigration at such a pace would have meant a constant and growing threat to the Jewish nature upon which this country was founded.

In addition to the demographic threat from illegal infiltrators, the massive influx of undocumented (mostly) men into Israel’s urban centers also wreaked havoc on the social fabric of our society. With little prospects for legal employment, and desperate to send funds and help their families back home by any means, we experienced a serious uptick in crime related to these illegal immigrants. Israel, which was built upon the ethos of caring for those who need it most, ended up funding education, health and other social-welfare services for these undocumented people, who did not contribute their fair share to the national budget.

Fast-forward to the second half of 2013. We are now looking at a completely different picture. Since January, a total of 34 people have succeeded in breaching our border with Egypt. That is a decline of more than 99 percent from the 9,570 who succeeded in doing so during the first half of 2012. How did we do this? Faced with all these problems, the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to take a number of rational steps that succeeded in stymieing what once seemed like an unstoppable tsunami of illegal immigrants.

Working together with the Knesset, a series of bills were signed in to law that made Israel a much less hospitable place for those who illegally crossed our borders. Strict limitations were placed on the amount of money undocumented residents could send out of Israel, making it a lot less attractive for young men to come here to send funds back to their families. Additionally, our courts approved changes to the law and allowed the government to hold illegal border infiltrators without trial until conditions are reached to send them back home.

Finally, and most importantly, a 144-mile-long fence was erected along most of the border, leaving only seven miles near our southern port of Eilat to be completed later. This state-of-the-art barrier has not only stopped those crossing illegally into our country, but its very presence has created a vital deterrence against this illegal behavior. These important steps have returned Israel’s immigration policy to where it once was.

We are the world’s only Jewish and democratic state, and it was founded by people from all over the world who understood all too well the hardship of being a persecuted minority. This is why we will continue to serve not only as the national homeland of the Jewish people, but as a safe haven for those who are in real danger, have no other country to turn to, and are willing to follow the legal steps necessary to obtain refugee status as outlined by the United Nations and the laws of Israel.

Like Israel, America is also a country founded by immigrants and, therefore, they hold a warm place in their hearts for those wanting to move to a new country in the hope of building a better future for their children. However, Americans also value the basic fairness and a dedication to the rule of law, which is violated all too often by those trying to enter the country without following the same rules and regulations that should apply to all potential immigrants.

I realize that for the United States, the number of illegal immigrants as well as the length of the borders clearly dwarf the logistical feat we undertook. Nevertheless, by following the basic principles outlined here in Israel, America can also reclaim control over its immigration process.

By implementing and enforcing strict and clear guidelines for entry into the country, the United States, like Israel, can restate its support for legal immigration while also safeguarding the country from those who make a mockery of law and order and endanger society as a whole.

Danny Danon is Israel’s deputy defense minister and author of “Israel: The Will to Prevail” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).