Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When House Republicans passed legislation in December that secured our borders and put a premium on strict enforcement of our immigration laws, the American people had hope that their elected leaders had heard their demands.

Sadly, the legislation that is currently leading the debate in Washington shows our senators have turned a deaf ear to the public. Despite last week’s action stopping it from coming to the Senate floor for a final vote, efforts are being made to tinker around the edges with this legislation and pass it later this year.

The better course of action is for our elected leaders to follow the no-nonsense direction being called for by hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens: Secure our borders now.

The current Senate legislation is a mirror image of the approach passed by Congress in 1986, when it forced on us amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for border security.

The result of that misguided approach then is an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States now.

The American people are fed up and won’t be misled again. This Congress will be judged on its actions, not its words.

Congress must stop the flow of illegal immigrants across our border. Once we know who is in our country then we can take the next step in immigration reform.

The supporters of the current Senate legislation have stated that “triggers” are in place that prevent a “pathway to citizenship” until the borders are secured.

The problem is that the bill’s “triggers” are basically meaningless since amnesty occurs regardless of whether the triggers are pulled. And besides, most of the triggers either are already in place or authorized by current law. For instance, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already has 27,500 detention beds, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is on schedule to have 18,000 Border Patrol agents in the next two years (they currently have almost 15,000 agents) and DHS is already required by law to build over 700 miles of fencing along the border (the 370 miles required by this “trigger” is actually a cut). In short, these “triggers” do not lead to true border security; but rather, greater insecurity for American families and businesses.

The current “comprehensive” immigration bill is purposely designed to permit the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants to legally live and work in the United States from day one and eventually to become permanent residents and then citizens. This is not the outcome the American people desire.

Until Congress passes legislation that starts and ends with securing our borders and puts a premium on strict enforcement of our immigration laws, we must make our voices heard. But understand, in order to hear our voice, you must take the time to listen to what we’re saying.

Should our senators do that, they would hear the five principles that guide the American people’s resolve on immigration.

First, the American people want to secure our borders and provide additional resources to federal and state authorities to strengthen border patrol efforts.

Second, they want to strengthen enforcement and stiffen penalties on those immigrants who ignore the rule of law of this country.

Third, they want to enforce current laws that prevent employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Fourth, they oppose all efforts to reward illegal immigrants for illegal behavior.

Fifth, but every bit as important, they want to keep the door to America open. We understand our success depends on legal immigrants. Look at how our nation was built. We just ask that those wanting to live here obey our immigration laws, assimilate into our society by learning English and embrace our common identity as Americans.

We further ask that those we have entrusted with leadership meet the expectations of the American people by passing straightforward legislation that secures our borders and enforces current immigration laws. That is not too much to ask, now is it?

Michael Steele is chairman of GOPAC and former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

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