By Lamar Smith. Lamar Smith represents Texas' 21st District and chairs the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims.
The Christian Science Monitor
CONGRESS soon will consider a bill that will benefit American families, workers, and taxpayers. It's the Immigration in the National Interest Act, which has significant bipartisan support. Citizens have every right to expect Congress to put the national interest first and secure our borders, protect lives, unite families, create jobs, and ease the burden on hard-working, law-abiding taxpayers.
Of course we are a nation of immigrants, and our generosity toward immigrants will continue. But our current immigration laws are broken and must be fixed. When 40 percent of the births in the public hospitals of our most-populous state, California, are to illegal aliens; when the number of illegal aliens entering our country every three years could populate a city the size of Boston or Dallas or San Francisco; when half of the 5 million illegal aliens in the US today use fraudulent documents to illegally obtain jobs and welfare benefits, it's not a problem, it's a crisis. When immigrant husbands or wives and their young children are forced to wait 10 years to be united; when one-quarter of all federal prisoners are foreign-born; when one-quarter of legal immigrants are on welfare, it's not a problem, it's a crisis. The crisis must be faced and solved.
We must put the national interest first. This means both reducing illegal immigration and reforming legal immigration. For illegal immigration, it means increasing the number of Border Patrol agents and reducing the attraction of the twin magnets of easily available jobs and easy access to welfare benefits. For legal immigration, it means giving priority to uniting spouses and their children and discouraging immigrants from living off the taxpayer.
Those who are unwilling to address the crisis in legal immigration cannot be taken seriously when they say they want to cut illegal immigration. Almost half of the illegal aliens in the United States entered legally on temporary visas, then overstayed. We cannot hope to reduce illegal immigration unless we're willing to address the problems in our legal immigration system.
There is widespread and bipartisan support for immigration reform. The Immigration in the National Interest Act, HR 2202, was approved by the Judiciary Committee 23 to 10 and has 120 cosponsors. The bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform, which was chaired by the late Barbara Jordan, endorsed the need to put the national interest first. And President Clinton recently affirmed his commitment to immigration reform. "Legal immigration must be based upon principles that are pro-family, pro-work, and pro-naturalization, retaining opportunities for family reunification as the levels are lowered," he wrote in response to an Associated Press survey of presidential candidates.
Most important, the American people want immigration reform. For the last 20 years, every public opinion survey taken on the subject shows that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of age, sex, political- party identification, or ethnic background, wants our immigration system fixed. …