Delivered July 30, 2007
immigration has become the most controversial, complex, and
sensitive subject we face today. It directly affects our economy,
our culture, and our future. To ensure that any action we take on
immigration policy is in our national interest, we need to approach
the subject with reason and facts. The astronomer Carl Sagan once
said, "Better the hard truth than the comforting fantasy."
Immigrants and the American
America has a wonderful tradition of welcoming newcomers. We
admit more than one million legal immigrants every year, almost as
many as all other countries combined. Our generosity and compassion
should continue. But it should be tempered by the knowledge that
those who want to harm us will use any means possible, including
our immigration policy, to do so.
It's no surprise that so many people want to come here: we are
the freest and most prosperous nation in the world. Immigrants have
benefited America in many ways. They are laborers, inventors, and
CEOs. They include the scientist Albert Einstein, Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger, and countless others who have contributed to
However, there is a difference between legal and illegal
immigration. legal immigrants play by the rules, wait their turn,
and come in the right way. Others cut in front of the line, break
our laws, and enter illegally.
We understand their desires. Our hearts go out to them. If we
were in their shoes, we would want to get to the United States too.
Most are hard-working, decent people. But we cannot accommodate
everyone. No nation can survive without respect for its laws and
without secure borders.
In one poll, almost half the residents of Mexico said they would
move to the U.S. if they could. Perhaps hundreds of millions of
people around the world would do the same thing. But that would
lead to mass chaos. Every nation has to know who and how many are
entering and why.
Not enforcing immigration laws has left our borders out of
control and has led to disrespect for the rule of law.
The Costs of Illegal Immigration
Today, anywhere from 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants
are in the U.S.--enough to populate America's three largest cities,
New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Half a million more enter
illegally every year.
Those who would do us harm respect no borders. For instance,
four of the 19 terrorists who attacked us on September 11, 2001,
were in the country illegally. Border security equals national
Illegal immigrants also depress wages and often take the jobs of
legal workers. According to the Center for immigration Studies,
low-skilled workers lose an average of $1,800 a year because of
competition from illegal immigrants for their jobs. That's a huge
The highest unemployment rates among Americans are in the
occupations with the highest number of illegal immigrants. Almost
one-quarter of all African-Americans and 40 percent of all
Hispanics do not have a high school degree. These low-skilled legal
workers are the victims of porous borders.
Some say there are jobs Americans won't do. But that demeans
Americans who work hard in every occupation. Any honest job is a
There is another cost to illegal immigration besides lower wages
and lost jobs. Communities and taxpayers pay the bills for their
education, health care, and government benefits. Overcrowded
classrooms, long waits at hospital emergency rooms, and expensive
government services result from a failure to secure our
In California alone, hospitals spend over $1 billion a year on
health care for illegal immigrants. And the National Research
Council has found that an immigrant with less than a high school
education will, over his or her lifetime, impose a cost on
taxpayers of $89,000. It is unfair to force legal residents and
taxpayers to continue to pick up the tab.
Some say the taxes illegal immigrants pay offset the costs of
providing them education, health care, and government benefits.
But, at their low wages, most illegal immigrants don't even pay
taxes. And when they do, their taxes don't cover other government
services, like maintaining highways, providing for our national
defense, and taking care of the needy and elderly.
Also, at their wages, if illegal immigrants participate in
Social Security, they will get back $100,000 more than they pay in,
further bankrupting the system for everyone else. The cost of
illegal immigration is staggering. And it is growing by the
The Dangers of Automatic
Ten percent of all births in the U.S. are to illegal immigrants.
In Los Angeles and Houston and other large cities, two-thirds of
all births are to illegal immigrants. These children automatically
become citizens and the parents become eligible for taxpayer-funded
benefits. Yet nearly every industrialized country in the world
requires at least one parent to be a citizen or legal immigrant
before the child is automatically considered a citizen.
This granting of automatic citizenship comes from a
misinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was drafted after
the Civil War to guarantee that the recently freed slaves gained
full citizenship rights. When it was enacted in 1868, there were no
illegal immigrants in the United States because there were no
immigration laws. Therefore, drafters of the Amendment could not
have intended to benefit those in our country illegally.
Professor Peter Schuck of Yale University Law School has
referred to "the offense to common morality and common sense of
conferring citizenship on children whose only connection to the
United States is that their mothers crossed the border (illegally)
in time to give birth here."
legal experts disagree as to whether a constitutional amendment
or a federal statute is needed to eliminate automatic birth
citizenship. Congress arguably has the power, and the
responsibility, to act for three reasons: 1) No Supreme Court case
has dealt directly with the offspring of illegal immigrants and the
question of automatic citizenship; 2) the Constitution expressly
gives Congress the power to decide national immigration policies;
and 3) during the debate on the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866, the
Senator who was its author said it would "not of course include
persons born in the United States who are foreigners." Congress is
long overdue in making sure the Fourteenth Amendment is correctly
amnesty and Guest Worker Proposals
Most Americans feel that illegal immigration poses serious
challenges. Several solutions have been suggested to cope with
illegal immigration, though they often result in more questions
than answers. One is to give the 12 million to 20 million
immigrants illegally in the U.S. amnesty and a path to citizenship,
which is the greatest honor our country can bestow.
What message does this send to legal immigrants who have played
by the rules and waited their turn to come in the right way? What
message does this send to law-abiding Americans who work hard to
pay their taxes--only to see their tax dollars go to lawbreakers?
What message does this send to terrorists? It says once you are in
the country you can gain a legal identity that gives you cover to
ply your treacherous trade. What message does this send to every
would-be illegal immigrant? It says in bright flashing lights: If
you get across the border, you're home free.
Of course, if illegal immigrants are given amnesty, that will
only encourage others to enter illegally, too.
Another proposal is to create a guest worker program and permit
illegal immigrants to stay and work legally. While there may be a
legitimate need for such a program in one
industry--agriculture--most industries do not have a legitimate
need for foreign workers since most of their workers are legal.
Guest worker programs also raise a number of questions. For
instance, what happens to the illegal immigrants who do not apply
for the program? Are guest workers limited to certain jobs or can
they go to another job? What is to stop them from taking a better
job for more pay? Can they bring their families? How long can they
stay? Will they voluntarily return to their home country? How do
you know they have left the country?
Doesn't such a program create an endless stream of guest workers
who drive down wages and take the jobs of American workers,
including legal immigrants?
Recently, federal immigration agents arrested illegal workers at
two large meat-processing companies. At one, they were replaced
quickly by local African-Americans who lined up for the jobs. At
the other, the jobs went immediately to legal immigrants.
For a guest worker program to function, we would need to have a
national database of tamper-proof, biometric, machine-readable ID
cards. How long will that take to create? What will it cost to
conduct background checks on all guest workers to make sure they
aren't criminals? Will foreign countries provide criminal
How do you stop the widespread use of fraudulent documents? In
many localities you can get a birth certificate in the mail without
proof of identity! Under the 1986 amnesty law, two-thirds of the
agriculture worker applications that were approved were later found
by the Government Accountability Office to be fraudulent.
What about the implications for our national security? Wouldn't
it be easy for a terrorist to gain access to a guest worker program
and legitimize his presence? In fact, it has already happened. The
terrorist who blew up the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993
was admitted as an agricultural guest worker, though he had no
connection to agriculture.
Maybe the best way to fix a broken immigration system is to
enforce our current immigration laws. Shouldn't we do this before
taking any other action?
jobs and Illegal immigration
The magnet that attracts most illegal immigrants is the easy
availability of jobs. Yet the 1986 law that makes it unlawful to
hire someone in the country illegally is seldom enforced. In 2005,
only four employers were fined under this law. If we make it
more difficult for illegal immigrants to get jobs, won't many go
Three-quarters of the American people want to penalize employers
who hire illegal workers. If the federal government enforced our
laws, illegal immigrants would be less likely to enter and more
likely to leave. This would help create jobs for American workers
and ease the financial burden on taxpayers.
Unfortunately, border patrol agents estimate that for every one
person they apprehend, another one or two succeed in entering
illegally. These agents' hands are tied both by a lack of
sufficient resources and by an immigration policy that says an
illegal immigrant must be caught as many as ten times before they
are actually arrested. That's an open invitation for illegal
immigrants to keep trying until they succeed in entering our
Forty percent of all illegal immigrants actually enter on
short-term visas and never return home after their visas expire.
And there is no way to know who they are since the federal
government has not developed the exit system--required by law--to
keep track of who leaves our country. That law was enacted 11 years
ago and has been largely ignored by both Democratic and Republican
When discussing the problems of illegal immigration and their
solutions, we should put the interests of American workers,
American taxpayers, and legal immigrants first. Supporters of
amnesty for the 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in the
U.S. say that even if their proposals are flawed, the status quo is
I agree: The immigration status quo is intolerable not because
our immigration laws are broken, but because they are not enforced.
It would be immigration reform just to enforce current laws. To
this end, I have introduced both a resolution and a bill with
Congressman Peter King (R-NY) that will secure the borders and
protect our homeland.
The resolution outlines 12 ways in which a lack of enforcement
has led to increased illegal immigration.
Why U.S. Policies Fail
immigration enforcement has failed primarily because
administrations for 20 years have not enforced sanctions on
employers who hire illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration will
never be brought under control as long as the easy availability of
jobs remains such a strong magnet. Our resolution calls on the Bush
Administration to enforce employer sanctions systematically, not
A lack of adequate resources has been another problem. This
Administration has not requested the number of detention beds,
immigration investigators, and Border Patrol agents that Congress
called for in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act
of 2004. Additionally, it has constructed only a few of the miles
of fencing called for in the Secure Fence Act. The resolution calls
on the Bush Administration to seek all the immigration enforcement
resources called for in the Intelligence Reform Act and to fulfill
the pledge we made in the Secure Fence Act.
Administrations have stood by while states and localities have
violated federal law by granting in-state tuition to illegal
immigrants. Such a policy rewards illegal immigrants at the expense
of U.S. citizens who are forced to pay out-of-state tuition rates
for the same education. The resolution calls on the Bush
Administration to enforce federal law.
Administrations have failed to prosecute 98 percent of the
illegal immigrants stopped at the border. The resolution calls on
the Administration to engage in more prosecutions so as to create a
credible deterrent to illegal entry and alien smuggling.
Administrations have failed to implement a mandated exit control
system to keep track of visa overstayers and have failed to fully
make use of tools that Congress has granted to combat illegal
immigration, such as expedited removal for illegal entrants. The
resolution calls on the Administration to do so.
Administrations have failed to protect American taxpayers by not
enforcing the affidavits of support that sponsors of legal
immigrants must sign. The resolution asks the Administration to do
Had previous administrations utilized these tools, requested the
necessary resources, and vigorously enforced these laws, we would
not have an illegal immigration crisis today: We would not have 12
million to 20 million illegal immigrants living in our country.
The Bush Administration claims we have a de facto amnesty
now. That's true and it is the result of the Bush Administration's
own lack of determination to enforce the law. We do not need
amnesty to enforce current law--we need to enforce the law to
eliminate the need for amnesty.
We can further reduce illegal immigration by giving the
government new and better tools. To do this, Representative King
and I have introduced the Secure Borders FIRST Act. One main point
of the bill is to end the job magnet by making it more difficult
for illegal immigrants to obtain jobs that should go to American
workers. The bill creates an employment eligibility verification
system that will reduce the attraction of that magnet.
The bill enlists the Social Security Administration and the
Internal Revenue Service to help end the employment of illegal
immigrants. The bill prevents businesses from claiming tax
deductions for illegal workers. Also, the bill substantially
increases document security. The bill prevents the federal
government from accepting insecure foreign consular ID cards and
institutes new security standards for birth certificates. Finally,
the bill responds to the legitimate needs of the agricultural
community for a reliable seasonal workforce.
Together, our resolution and our bill point the way toward an
end to the intolerable status quo and towards a future when our
laws are both respected and enforced.
The Honorable Lamar Smith, a
Republican, represents the 21st District of Texas in the U.S. House