Getting Serious About Border Protection
December 2, 2005
Three years after September 11th, in August 2004, an illegal immigrant from Pakistan named Shahawar Matin Siraj was arrested in New York. He was picked up for attempting to bomb the Herald Square subway station and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Siraj was quoted as saying, "I want at least 1,000 to 2,000 to die in one day."
Note the key word in that last paragraph: illegal. Siraj illegally entered the U.S. six years prior to his arrest. He'd even spent time in prison earlier in 2004 on a separate immigration matter. So how did an illegal immigrant who wished to kill thousands of Americans end up back on the streets? Simple. The system is broken.
Now, the vast majority of illegal immigrants are nothing like the man mentioned above -- most are only looking for a better life, as did most of our ancestors, and as only America can provide. But the simple fact remains: their first act in America was to break the law. We don't tolerate theft, murder, tax evasion, or any other number of crimes; we shouldn't tolerate the violation our immigration policies either.
If you were asked how many illegal immigrants there are in the U.S., what do you think you'd say? 5 million? 8 million? 11 million? It's an impossible to answer the question with any certainty because, frankly, nobody knows for sure.
We need to get serious about border protection. To stem the tide of illegal immigration we should begin with the obvious: enforcement. America already has a host of immigration laws on the books. They exist for a reason. We shouldn't apologize for holding accountable those who break them.
But if we truly want to get a handle on the problem, we'll need to do more than enforce the status quo. Our borders are long, porous, and serve as an open invitation to anyone who would flout our laws or, worse, do us harm.
Over the past year, I've cosponsored a number of pieces of legislation aimed at reforming America's immigration system. The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal (CLEAR) Act of 2005 for example would empower local law enforcement officials to act on immigration matters.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) there are currently more than 400,000 illegal immigrants roaming the U.S. that are slated for deportation -- and ICE can't find them. Of those people, 80,000 have criminal convictions. The CLEAR Act would empower local and state law enforcement agencies to detain these criminals during the course of their regular duty. It would also provide local governments with additional resources and funding as they grapple with enforcing immigration laws.
But while efforts like this are a step in the right direction, history has demonstrated that immigration reform can't be done on a piece by piece basis. We need a comprehensive solution that will shore up America's porous borders, better regulate who comes across, and keep the door open for those who want to immigrate here legally.
Note the key word in that last paragraph: legally. I remain a strong proponent of legal, regulated immigration. America was built on the backs of immigrants and continues to benefit from them. In my view, those who immigrate to the U.S. and obey our laws in the process should be readily welcomed. Those who do not should be held to account.