Seven years ago, Americans looked on in horror as the events of September 11th unfolded. At the end of the day the skyline of one of our greatest cities was forever changed, the Pentagon, a symbol of America's military strength was still smoldering, and a previously indistinguishable field in western Pennsylvania had suddenly and terribly become an unmarked grave for America's newest heroes.
Last week on the anniversary of those horrific and unprovoked attacks it was important that we commemorated the lives of our fallen countrymen and it is vital that we not forget the raw emotions that marked that day, for they underscore our responsibility and give us the impetus to continue the unfinished task before us.
We have learned a great deal since the attacks of September 11, 2001, including the need to increase border security to prevent terrorists from entering our country. Each year, the illegal immigrant population grows by more than 400,000, with over twelve million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Studies have shown, between forty and fifty percent of the illegal aliens in the U.S. came on legal temporary visas but never returned home. As we have witnessed, terrorists have exploited the flaws in our immigration system, including border security, to inflict harm on our citizens and this is not acceptable.
Congress can pass tough laws every year, but if they are not enforced they remain useless. For many years now, weak enforcement and confusing provisions in immigration law have allowed illegal aliens to stay in the country often without consequences. Deportation cases often last for years -- even decades in some instances. And only a small percentage of those who are issued final orders of removal are actually deported. This policy of turning a blind eye must end.
With the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. only expected to increase in the future, we must enforce our current immigration laws. Congress must continue to work to secure our borders, deport illegal aliens, including those who overstay their temporary visas, and ensure that employers who hire illegal aliens are punished while at the same time giving all employers better tools to determine whether job seekers are lawfully eligible to accept employment offers in the first place.
On the anniversary of this tragic day, which has been eternally seared into our national conscience, our thoughts and prayers go out to those Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the loss of a loved one. We continue to grieve with them today and pray that time will help ease their pain. This September as we mourn the loss and honor those individuals who lost their lives seven years ago, we must find strength in our continued resolve and work together to protect our great nation from those who wish to do us harm.