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Responsible Immigration Reform

By Jim DeMint

Thousands of immigrants flooded the streets of America's biggest cities last month to protest the enforcement of our immigration policies. Counter-demonstrators also came out to express their disgust with the lack of enforcement. Emotions are running high.

Here in the nation's capital where cooler heads should prevail, Congress seems to be crafting critical legislation based on this same emotion. The rhetoric from both sides of the debate continues to ratchet up while badly needed immigration reforms remain on the shelf.

While some demand nothing short of amnesty in the form of permanent legal status and a path to citizenship and voting rights for illegal immigrants, others come close to an anti-immigrant stance that ignores our heritage and our economic needs. We should reject both of these extremes and use principle, not politics, to fix our broken immigration system.

The lack of control at our borders poses a serious national security threat. Our willingness to look the other way has undermined the rule of law for the past twenty years. The process for legal immigration has become so tangled and bureaucratic that it is now much easier to enter the United States illegally than to follow the law. And this failed system now tramples on the meaning of citizenship and the American ideal of a melting-pot-nation -- a nation where immigrants enter legally and become part of a shared American culture and civil society.

It is time for Congress to enact immigration reform that meets the following four principles.

First, national security must be our number one priority. This requires improvements in border security and workplace enforcement.

Second, immigration must be a net gain for our country, not a net loss. This requires attracting those with the skills and enterprise, creating a responsible temporary guest worker program, and putting responsible limits on the burdens immigrants place on American taxpayers.

Third, we must not grant amnesty. Illegal immigrants cannot be given legal permanent residency or citizenship without first returning to their home country and getting right with the law.

Fourth, we must strengthen assimilation, which has always been the strength of the America. The traditional American melting pot immigration process is not what it once was. We must again teach immigrants what it truly means to be an American citizen, and that includes speaking our common language.

Democrats control both chambers of Congress and now have an opportunity to address this problem. Instead, some Democrats are being led by strategists who see an opportunity to create a new reliable voting bloc by granting amnesty to the more than 12 million current illegal immigrants.

This may serve their political interests, but it will also further undermine the rule of law and, like the amnesty of 1986, send the wrong message about America's immigration laws. America must always be fair, and granting amnesty is grossly unfair to the millions of hard-working immigrants who have legally come to this nation.

Our freedom is at stake here, because our way of life is based on the rule of law. Granting amnesty flouts that fundamental American principle and threatens the underpinnings of everything we hold dear.

At the same time, we must remember that there are compassionate ways to address the millions of illegal immigrants living in our country without granting amnesty. We can give people a reasonable amount of time to return to their home countries and get right with the law.

Any immigration reform legislation that does not address these principles is not a serious attempt at reform. Legislation that does not strengthen border security, serve American interests, uphold the rule of law, and improve American assimilation puts politics over principle. It is by these standards that Americans will judge Congress on this issue. And it is upon these principles that the strength of our nation rest.

Jim DeMint is a U.S. Senator from South Carolina.

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