Defining the terms of the immigration debate

Steve King Congressman
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“Immigration reform” is the catchphrase describing any potential law legalizing millions of illegal border crossers and visa-overstayers. “Comprehensive immigration reform” would combine legalization with enhanced border security, visa reform, and increased interior enforcement. Inevitably, proposed reform is couched as a trade off: immediate amnesty in exchange for reforms that may or may not come to fruition. The stakes of the debate are high, and this emotionally charged Washington DC chess game depends on politics, personalities, elections, procedure, and journalism.

Since no form of legalization will stand up to public scrutiny, so I bring the terms of the debate to you in the clearest, most honest language available to me. I will define “amnesty”, “citizenship” and the “rule of law,” and share my conclusions about all three relative to the current immigration debate.

Amnesty — Currently, between 12 and 20 million people live in the United States, yet are undocumented by the United States government. They knowingly, willfully, and illegally placed themselves or voluntarily remain in this condition, currently enjoy access to the strongest economy on the planet, and the vast majority are free from any legal consequences. The injustice stemming from what I have just described is visited upon Americans and those waiting around the world for a legal opportunity to come here. Furthermore, in light of the present debate and the passage of the Senate’s bill, those 12 to 20 million people are candidates for the ultimate reward: American citizenship.

I define amnesty as pardoning lawbreakers and rewarding them with the desired object that caused them to commit that crime. In this case, that object is lawful presence and American citizenship. Citizenship is precisely what is proposed by the Senate’s Gang of Eight Bill. In this sense, amnesty is not merely forgiveness of a crime, but a reward for having committed the crime.

Citizenship — A child is not born with the intrinsic quality of citizenship, it is bestowed by a government. Many times, citizenship is granted at the moment a baby draws his or her first breath, but in some cases it is bestowed much later in life. American citizenship is one of the greatest blessings available to anyone who walks the earth today. American citizens have the right to vote, to serve on a jury and to run for office, which makes them active participants in the most influential government known to man. They have access to Social Security and Medicare, and a safety net that includes unemployment benefits and food stamps. Their safety is ensured by the strongest fighting force in history. Their speech, right to assemble, free exercise of religion, right to bear arms, security against unreasonable search and seizure, and guarantee of a trial by jury are all protected by the Constitution. Those freedoms and liberties all become the birthright of American children as well.

The Rule of Law — In light of these descriptions, consider that the Senate’s bill, if enacted, would give those gifts to most of the 12 to 20 million illegals. These lawbreakers are in a position to receive this generosity because they committed a crime: either illegally crossing the border or illegally staying past the expiration date of their visa. When this occurs, justice will be turned on its head and the rule of law will be forever tarnished – illegal immigrants will be rewarded for breaking it.

The rule of law is the pillar upon which all our rights as Americans are upheld, it is the only way we can guarantee those rights, and is the greatest protection against injustice ever conceived. That description should make every American proud and humbled, but it should lead us to jealously guard it, not sacrifice it at the altar of political expediency.

With the terms clearly defined, take a step back and assess the implications of the amnesty plan being proposed in Washington, DC. Ignore the procedural chess match and the political horse race, and decide what is best for Americans and the republic at large. This American is prepared to oppose amnesty in all of its forms because the rule of law is of great importance and the consequences of betraying it are massive. No trade off – let alone legalization for illusory border protections — is worth that price, and I hope my colleagues in the House share the courage of that conviction.