When it comes to illegal immigration, the American people are tired of thirty years of lip service. They want our laws enforced. As secretary of homeland security, I have directed my department to pursue that mandate, using all the tools permitted by law.
This involves a three-fold approach.
First, we stem the flow at the border by increasing the likelihood that illegal entrants -- and smugglers of all types -- will be detected, apprehended, and removed.
Second, we drive businesses to comply with laws against employing illegal workers.
Third, when we encounter those who are here illegally, we remove them.
Granted, we need a long-term solution involving a temporary worker program, legal immigration reform and a fair policy to deal with illegal immigrants long-rooted here.
But the American people have demanded that we first demonstrate an effective commitment to enforce current laws. And even those who are sympathetic to the painful circumstances of illegal immigration question any change that might trigger new waves of entrants seeking to benefit from still-future waves of "reform."
Our policies respond to this demand and to Congress. They may be tough, yet they are fair, and they are succeeding.
That success has now bred a firestorm of opposition. Opponents are driven by factors ranging from an ideological commitment to open borders to reliance on illegal workforces. Apparently, their strategy is to challenge every enforcement action with exaggerated or misleading cries of outrage. These challenges add up to a position that would forbid any effective enforcement.
The New York Times editorial page is a case in point.
Regarding interior enforcement, a March 27, 2008 editorial ("A Foolish Immigration Purge") attacked our proposal that businesses receiving letters about workers whose names don't match Social Security numbers clear up the discrepancy within three months. Under this proposal, if a mismatch is caused by an innocent clerical mistake, the mistake is simply corrected. But if it's caused by an illegal worker carrying a forged identity, the employer must act. Ignoring this distinction, the Times falsely implied that businesses would have to fire workers even for innocent errors.
A December 18, 2006 editorial ("Swift Raids" ) protested earlier efforts at workplace enforcement. It was followed by an October 4, 2007 editorial ("Stop the Raids" ) which depicted our enforcement efforts on Long Island and elsewhere as trampling on localities. But an April 16, 2008 editorial ("New Jersey's Immigration Crackdown" ) castigated Garden State localities for their enforcement efforts.
Concerning border security, an April 3, 2008 editorial ("Michael Chertoff's Insult" ) condemned our exercise of legal authority to waive certain environmental regulations that would have stopped us from fulfilling the explicit mandate of Congress to put fencing , roads and lighting in place this year in order to stem drug and human smuggling.
The editorial failed to mention that we had previously conducted multiple environmental reviews or that the Interior Department has complained that some border areas are so endangered by smugglers that visitors and employees are turned away.
Taken together, these examples suggest that in some quarters, no enforcement technique is acceptable. Of
course, if none is acceptable, enforcing immigration law becomes impossible.
Perhaps that's what some critics really want. In a March 4, 2008 editorial ("Border Insecurity") this newspaper takes aim at the very propriety of defending our sovereignty and our laws:
"From San Diego on the Pacific to Brownsville on the Rio Grande, a steel curtain is descending across the continent. Behind it lies a nation ... that has decided to wall itself off ..."
In this rewrite of lines from Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain address, the editorialists outrageously compare America's attempts to secure its own borders against smugglers with Josef Stalin's subjugation of Eastern Europe.
In the end, the debate is not about enforcement tactics. It's about enforcing the rule of law. Do our critics want a country where employers create economic incentives for people to come here illegally? Do they desire an America with open borders and uncontrolled illegal migration? Should federal officials tacitly allow this to happen by rejecting every meaningful effort to enforce the law?
In the end, two truths stand out. We need to continue to discuss reforms to our immigration laws. But we must continue to uphold our current laws by enforcing them.