I recognize the sense of compassion that drives this argument, but I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration.
And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally.
Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.
Not possible to round up 11 million people
Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it’s not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive.
Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation -– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric. Many have children who are American citizens. Some are children themselves, brought here by their parents at a very young age, growing up as American kids, only to discover their illegal status when they apply for college or a job.
Migrant workers -– mostly here illegally -– have been the labor force of our farmers and agricultural producers for generations. So even if it was possible, a program of mass deportations would disrupt our economy and communities in ways that most Americans would find intolerable.
Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values. Such an approach demands accountability from everybody -– from government, from businesses and from individuals.
Government must secure our borders
Government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders. That’s why I directed my Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano -- a former border governor -- to improve our enforcement policy without having to wait for a new law.
Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history. Let me repeat that:
- We have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history.
- We doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces.
- We tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the border.
- For the first time, we’ve begun screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments.
Southern border is more secure than ever
So the bottom line is this: The southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do. We have to do that work, but it’s important that we acknowledge the facts. Even as we are committed to doing what’s necessary to secure our borders, even without passage of the new law, there are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders.
But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.
Businesses must be held accountable for illegal hiring
That’s why businesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We’ve already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders. And we’re implementing and improving a system to give employers a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.
But we need to do more. We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law. It breeds abuse and bad practices. It punishes employers who act responsibly and undercuts American workers. And ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.
Illegals must admit they broke the law
Finally, we have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to:
- pay their taxes,
- pay a fine, and
- learn English.
Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities. We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values, and works.
Now, stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration. We’ve begun to do that, by eliminating a backlog in background checks that at one point stretched back almost a year. That’s just for the background check. People can now track the status of their immigration applications by email or text message.
We’ve improved accountability and safety in the detention system. And we’ve stemmed the increases in naturalization fees. But here, too, we need to do more. We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to come to start businesses and develop products and create jobs.