- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once infuriated the Daughters of the American Revolution, meeting in convention assembled at Constitution Hall, by addressing them, accurately, as “my fellow immigrants.”

Ronald Reagan made a telling point with his observation that, alone among the nations, immigrants to America become as natives of the realm, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, the instant they take the oath of allegiance as new citizens. From that moment forward they’re as American as any Bush of Connecticut or Pinckney of South Carolina (or Pruden of Arkansas). You can’t say that about a newly naturalized citizen of France, Germany, or even Britain. Such sentiment, as warm and comforting as a chocolate pie just out of the oven, does not compute anywhere but here.

Immigration is the life’s blood of the nation, the source of the vitality and industry that is the envy of the world (particularly that older part of the world preoccupied with its mouldy cheeses and suspicious sausages). We forget that at our peril.

Nevertheless, we need more than a resort to squishy sentiment when we consider how uncontrolled and unfair immigration threatens to erode many of the attractions and opportunities that draw immigrants to America in the first place. Those who want to reform the immigration laws are no less compassionate, no less welcoming, than those who want no immigration control at all.

Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, suggested in a speech in Miami early this week that the remedy for the wave of uncontrolled and illegal immigration that threatens to swamp the government’s ability to regulate it is to “legalize” the 8 million, or 10 million, or 12 million (nobody has any idea of how many of them there are) illegal aliens now plucking chickens, bussing tables and minding gringo babies in the United States.

“The government,” Mr. Ridge says, “has to come to grips with the presence of 8 [million] to 12 million illegals and afford them some kind of legal status in some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it.

“I’m not saying make them citizens, because they violated the law to get here. So you don’t reward that type of conduct by turning over a citizenship certificate. You determine how you can legalize their presence, then, as a country, you make a decision that from this day forward this is a process of entry, and if you violate that process of entry we have the resources to cope with it.”

Such nonsensical argle-bargle could not have come out of the mouth of a Cabinet secretary unless it was decreed from the highest levels of government — higher, in fact, than the level where mere presidents live. It must have come from the “political shop.” Indeed, upon inquiry from startled reporters, a White House spokeswoman took pains not to dispute the message and retreated into campaign-mode goo-goo. “The president believes America should be a welcoming country, a welcoming society,” she said. “We’re a nation of immigrants.”

Mr. Ridge is blowing smoke, perhaps supplied by the White House political shop, with his bland assurance that once the 8 to 12 million illegals get a free pass there won’t be any mercy for those who sneak in afterward. Such amnesties only beget further abuse by more illegals, who calculate, rightly, that further amnesties will surely follow.

President Bush promised, in the border Spanglish he slips into in the campaign season, to grant permanent residence to millions of illegal aliens in the days just before September 11. But in the weeks that followed, when the scope and implications of the scandal on the nation’s borders began to come clear, he thought better of it, and in plain English.

To grant special treatment to those breaking the law is grossly unfair to those who are foolish enough to obey the law, who get in line and go by the rules. What Mr. Ridge, and perhaps the administration, proposes is nothing short of declaring open season on the borders. Granting citizenship to the world, amnesty by amnesty, may make some of us feel good, but it is foolish, dishonest and irresponsible. If we don’t respect our borders, no one else will. The president, and not his “political shop,” owes Mr. Ridge a tutorial in civics.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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