In defense of legal immigration

July 16, 2013 

Editor's Note: Congressman Tom McClintock delivered the following remarks on the House floor July 10.

America is a nation of immigrants. We are all either immigrants ourselves or we are the sons and daughters of immigrants. America's motto is "E Pluribus Unum" – from many, one. From many nations we have created one great nation — the American nation.

There is only one way to accomplish this remarkable feat and that is through the process of assimilation.

Unlike other nations, our immigration laws were not written to keep people out — they were written to assure that those who come here demonstrate a sincere desire to become Americans — to acquire a common language, a common culture, and a common appreciation of American Constitutional principles and American legal traditions.

Illegal immigration undermines the process of legal immigration that makes our nation of immigrants possible. If we allow illegal immigration, then legal immigration becomes pointless, the process of assimilation that our immigration laws assure breaks down, and the bonds of allegiance that hold a country like ours together begin to dissolve.

As a recent article by John Fonte of National Review points out, earlier immigration reform bills included a provision calling for "patriotic integration of prospective citizens into the American way of life by providing civics, history, and English — with a special emphasis on attachment to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, the heroes of American history and the meaning of the Oath of Allegiance."

The Director of Immigration policy for La Raza objected to this language, writing that "while it doesn't overtly mention assimilation, it is very strong on the patriotism and traditional American values language in a way which is potentially dangerous to our communities."

This language is pointedly missing from the Senate measure, suggesting a purpose fundamentally different from past immigration laws. It raises the question of why the groups behind this bill find the mention of assimilation objectionable and consider patriotism and traditional American values not only disagreeable but, in their word, "dangerous."

To those who say that we need a path to citizenship, I must point out that we already have such a path that is followed by millions of legal immigrants who have obeyed all of our laws, who have respected our nation's sovereignty, who have done everything our country has asked of them to do — including waiting patiently in line — and are now watching millions of illegal immigrants cut in line in front of them.

The 1986 Immigration Reform Act promised a "balanced approach" that combined legalization of the three million illegal immigrants then in the country with promises of employer sanctions and tougher border security. As we all know, legalization occurred instantly — but the promises of enforcement were first ignored and later actively resisted by the presidents who followed.

The current administration, for all its rhetoric, has unlawfully suspended enforcement of our existing immigration laws and actively obstructed states from assisting in their enforcement. If this administration will not enforce our existing law, why should anyone believe its promises to enforce even stricter laws in the future?

A common tactic of those on the left is to blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration and to paint those in opposition to amnesty as "anti-immigrant." This is simply dishonest.

Legal immigration is the very essence of our country — it sets us apart from every other nation in the world — the fact that citizenship is open to all who evince a sincere desire to understand, adopt and revere those uniquely American principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and animated by our American Constitution. They do so by the thousands, every day, by obeying our immigration laws, renouncing foreign loyalties, and embracing American principles. By doing so, as Lincoln said, they become the "blood of the blood and the flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration."

Illegal immigration destroys all of that, and any measure that encourages more of it by granting special privileges to those who defy our immigration laws is a direct affront to every legal immigrant who has become an American and it is a direct challenge to the process of immigration that built our nation.

To those illegal immigrants who seek citizenship out of a sincere desire to become Americans, I ask them to respect our laws and I invite them to begin the process of legal immigration that is already available to them and has been followed by the millions who have come before them.

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