There are few topics in the world today on which nearly everyone has a strong opinion. Illegal immigration -- or better said, how we deal with illegal aliens -- is one that actually makes the short list.
As we've seen in presidential debates by both Republican and Democratic candidates, the issue is significant as millions of foreign residents who are not supposed to be here currently live inside our borders.
Anyone who enters illegally, for whatever reason, violates federal law. Yet dealing with illegal aliens is not solely a federal issue, as tremendous impacts are felt at the state level.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty recognizes this growing problem and is trying to do something about it. Recently, I and other concerned lawmakers stood alongside Pawlenty as he unveiled his illegal immigration package that's designed to better enforce our laws and encourage law enforcement agencies to work together.
As part of this agenda, the governor would like to increase penalties on businesses that knowingly hire residents who live here illegally; create tougher penalties for forging public documents; and force cities who forbid police officers to ask about a person's immigration status to stop that practice, or else face a 10 percent reduction in Local Government Aid.
I plan to author a bill that would make English the official language in Minnesota, a measure that would also require people to write and speak English in order to get a driver's license.
Make no mistake, immigration has been a tremendous asset for our state and country. All of us should welcome and be thankful for those foreign-born residents who choose to enter this country legally and become productive members of our society. They are truly living the American dream, and we are all better off for it.
But illegal immigration is a problem.
First of all, it's a safety concern. In this era of terrorism, it is unconscionable that we allow thousands of foreign-born residents to live in this state illegally. It's more appalling that cities like Minneapolis actually have sanctuary ordinances that forbid police from asking lawbreakers about their residency status. If you take away the ability to enforce laws, aren't you putting your community at risk?
Then there's the cost to the state. Health and welfare costs are spiraling out of control. Without reform, these programs will cost Minnesotans billions of dollars more over the next several years than what is currently spent. Those costs rise every time an illegal immigrant utilizes these services.
In addition, you could argue that illegal immigration diminishes our state's overall economic security and puts financial pressure on funding our schools.
Some have argued that we should be more lenient toward illegal immigrants as they often hold jobs that many Americans don't want. Inevitably, they pay state and federal income taxes and help keep this country running smoothly.
If that is the case, then why have federal immigration standards in the first place? No matter how nice or productive the person is, each and every illegal immigrant has broken the law by entering this country.
To me, illegal immigration is not a gray area. There is no doubt that federal reforms need to be made. Hopefully our next president and the new Congress can accomplish this task.
But the repercussions of illegal immigration are also being felt at the state level. Pawlenty recognizes the problem and wants the Legislature to enact some needed, common-sense reforms, and I stand ready to help him achieve this goal.