We Are a Nation of Immigrants

 “We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.”  – Governor Mitt Romney

Those words are true. I know they are, because I am one of the children he described. When I was eight years old, my dad quit his job in Australia and brought our family to the nation I love so much – the United States of America. He didn’t do it because he wanted adventure, or because he got bored of living in Australia. He moved here because America is the land of freedom and opportunity. And we have been blessed by the opportunities we found here. Now, my dad owns a small business in a quiet rural town. And life is good.

Immigration has become a heated issue over the past several months. But is all of this divisive name-calling and racially-charged arguing really necessary? Have we gone past the point where we can come together and discuss our problems in a courteous manner? If so, I mourn the death of civil discourse. This is not the way the Founding Fathers made America a great nation.

You see, whether our families came to America two years ago or two hundred, we are all the sons and daughters of immigrants. But for some reason, we have begun to treat immigrants as our enemies. President Ronald Reagan noted that people build walls to keep an enemy out, and that’s why I worry about this sudden push to build a great wall on our southern border. The fact that the main proponent of this great wall has called Mexican immigrants “criminals, rapists, and drug dealers” confirms my fears.

Make no mistake – I am not for one minute arguing that we do not need to secure our border. We do, and the sooner the better. I am not condemning the use of border fences. But I am strongly condemning the decision of some candidates to demonize those who want to enjoy the blessings of freedom and opportunity in the same way that our ancestors did.

These candidates either do not understand our immigration crisis or have chosen to ignore the realities of it. They are content to spout off useless soundbites about building “YUGE” walls, and then deporting every single person that is here in the United States illegally. I’m sorry to break it to these candidates, but such ideas do not work in the real world.

Take, for example, this great wall. The US-Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles long. Estimates to build a fence  – which would be cheaper than a wall – along this border range from 15 billion to 30 billion dollars. We have a massive national debt already. How can we as fiscal conservatives justify spending close to 50 billion dollars to build a wall?

Secondly, what if we did build a wall and then deport every single one of the over 11 million people here illegally? On top of the 30 to 50 billion dollars required to build the wall, we would then need a whopping 400 to 600 billion dollars to carry out this policy of mass deportation. And even if we had that money to spend, the time it would take to deport 11 million people is staggering. The US Government has estimated that they can deport 400,000 people annually. Using their estimate, it would take over 27 years to deport all of the illegal immigrants already here. And that’s assuming that no more illegals enter the country during that time. To speed up the process would require massive detention centers, thousands of additional federal agents, and as one candidate proposed, “Boxcars.”

Is this what America has come to? Are we so possessive of the American dream that we cannot allow others to take part in it? If so, tear down the Statue of Liberty. She cannot raise her torch calling the tired and poor to come if we are going to deport them.

My fellow Americans, does this sound like a winning strategy on immigration? I think not. It’s time to offer real solutions to this problem, and that is my purpose today.

First, we must simplify our immigration laws. Our current immigration system is far too complicated, expensive, and outdated. When it costs thousands of dollars to apply for a visa, is it any wonder that people choose to cross the border without one? For some workers, a thousand dollars is what they earn in a year. They want to come here to make a better life, but the bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to do it legally.  They are certainly not innocent, because they have broken the law. But as someone who has wrestled with the immigration system myself, I understand entirely why they chose to do that. If we simplify our laws to make them easier to comply with, perhaps it would encourage these people to do things the right way.

Secondly, we must secure our border. But we cannot do that until the first step is complete. If we have not created an easier, cheaper way for immigrants to come here legally, we will not stop the flow of illegal immigration. How we secure the border is up for debate. There are individuals who have spent their lives studying this question, and we would be foolish not to draw upon their expertise. But we can secure the border, and we must do so before moving on to the third step.

Once the border is secure, we must address the millions of people here in this country illegally. And having explored the option of mass deportation, we have found that option to be completely unfeasible. But there is another answer, one between the extremes of mass deportation and blanket amnesty. I propose that we give these people temporary legal status. Not amnesty, permanent residency, or citizenship, but temporary legal status.

Under this proposal, immigrants will be given one year to register with the government. If they do not register within this period, they will be deported. When they register with the government, they will be required to pay a fine or perform community service for breaking the law. Once they have paid for their wrongdoing, they can apply for a three year visa under the new, simplified system. They may continue living in the United States, but they must make a decision during those three years. They may either apply for permanent residency in the same way other immigrants do, apply for an extension of their visa, or leave.

You may consider this proposal too lenient on those who have broken the law. But I assure you that they will make amends for their wrongdoing. And unlike what some candidates will tell you, this is the only practical, feasible option, and it is the only option that stays true to our values. America has always been a land of freedom and opportunity. And in a time of global chaos, we must continue to be that City on a Hill. We must continue to be that place where people can build a brighter future for themselves and their families. And we cannot deny people that opportunity simply because they made one mistake.

I will close with the words of former Texas Governor Rick Perry:

“We need to get back to the central Constitutional principle that, in America it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin – that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going. In an America blind to color, there is no room for debate that denigrates certain people based on their heritage or origin.

We can secure the border and reform our immigration system without inflammatory rhetoric, without base appeals that divide us based on race, culture, and creed.

Let me be crystal clear: for those of us in Christ, our citizenship is first and foremost in God’s kingdom, our brothers and sisters are those made in the image of God, and our obligation – after loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul – is to love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of where they come from.

Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ. We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values.

It is time to elevate our debate from divisive name-calling, from soundbites to solutions, and start discussing how we will make the country better for all if a conservative is elected President.”

And let the people say, “Amen.”

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