Freedom Watch

Trust but E-Verify

We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws.

By From the October 2011 issue

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For centuries, immigrants have come to America seeking the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some came fleeing religious persecution. Others came for the possibility of a better life. But all were inspired by the freedoms that exist in the United States because of the rule of law.

Throughout our history, immigrants have contributed to American society and helped build the American dream. But today we face an immigration crisis. Lax enforcement of our immigration laws threatens the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that has made America what it is today. In order to protect the American dream, we must enforce our immigration laws.

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border is under the "operational control" of the U.S. Border Patrol. Forty-four percent is a failing grade. Holes in the security of our borders threaten American lives. In Mexico, more than 35,000 people have been killed in the past five years. Without strong border security, this violence threatens to spill over into border towns, from Brownsville to San Diego. The first promise of the American dream is "life." In order to protect that promise, we must secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

We must also do more to protect Americans from criminal illegal immigrants. Although the Obama administration has increased the deportation of criminal immigrants, two Supreme Court rulings created a safe haven for dangerous criminal immigrants who cannot be removed. Because these rulings prohibit criminal immigrants from being detained longer than six months if they cannot be deported, federal officials have been forced to release thousands of criminal immigrants into our communities. Tragically, many have gone on to commit more crimes, including murder. That's why I introduced the Keep Our Communities Safe Act to prevent the release of dangerous criminal immigrants back into our neighborhoods.

The promise of "liberty" for those who come to America is also threatened by illegal immigration. People from around the world come to the U.S. seeking freedom from oppression. These individuals come the right way -- they follow our laws and wait in line for America's freedoms and opportunities. Citizenship is the highest honor our nation can bestow. We should not cheapen it by giving it away to individuals who broke our laws to come here in the first place.

But that's precisely what amnesty does: it undermines the rule of law. We have succeeded as a nation in preserving our liberties because we adhere to the rule of law. We punish law-breakers in order to protect the freedoms of law-abiders. Amnesty does the exact opposite -- it rewards criminal behavior and encourages more illegal immigration.

For many, the pursuit of happiness is also the pursuit of prosperity. Part of the American dream is the ability to provide for your family, have a job that pays the bills, and puts a roof over your head. The last few years of economic uncertainty have made this dream harder to attain for millions of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. Twenty-four million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, there are 7 million illegal workers with jobs in the U.S. We could open up millions of jobs for citizens and legal immigrants if we simply enforced worksite immigration laws.

E-Verify is a program that helps preserve scarce jobs for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. It allows employers to check whether prospective employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. The program is free, quick, and easy to use -- persons eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time. More than 270,000 employers across the U.S. voluntarily use E-Verify, and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week. I've introduced the Legal Workforce Act to require all U.S. employers touse E-Verify. This bill is one of the most significant steps we can take to preserve the pursuit of happiness for millions of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants while curbing incentives for future illegal immigrants.

The U.S. has been and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. And we must enforce our laws to protect and preserve the rights and freedoms that make America so great.

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About the Author

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican U.S. representative from Texas, chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration laws.