Every evening, thousands of people line up just south of California’s border with Mexico. They wait for darkness to fall so they can slip across the border and illegally enter our country. The Border Patrol succeeds in catching as many as half of these people, but thousands more still succeed at illegally entering our country each and every day. I don’t fault people trying to find a better life in our nation. In fact, it’s hard not to admire their courage and determination. America is a nation of immigrants—three of my own grandparents were immigrants to America. They came for the same reason anyone comes—to build a better future. They brought their hopes and dreams, and the nation benefited from them and millions like them. But there’s a limit to how many immigrants we can assimilate at once.
During just the past four years, enough people to fill a city the size of Oakland have illegally crossed the border into California. In Los Angeles alone, illegal aliens and their children total nearly a million people—that’s a city of illegal immigrants the size of San Diego living in our midst. If we ignore this flood of illegal immigration, we’ll erode the quality of life for all those who live here legally. And make no mistake, our quality of life is threatened by this tidal wave of illegal immigrants.
Our classrooms are already bursting, but by federal law the}”re open to anyone who can clandestinely slip across America’s 2,000-mile border. Our public health care facilities are swamped, but two-thirds of all babies born in L.A. public hospitals are born to parents who have illegally entered the United States. And the budgets for our parks, beaches, libraries, and public safety will continue to suffer while California spends billions to incarcerate enough illegal aliens to fill eight state prisons.
It’s hardworking recent legal immigrants who suffer the most from our failure to deal with illegal immigration. Legal immigrants suffer lower wages and lost jobs when illegal immigration grows. And it’s legal immigrants who bear the brunt of the backlash that comes when a nation can’t control its borders. That’s why we must return reason and fairness to America’s immigration laws. The solution to the problem lies not on our border but in policies devised 3,000 miles to the east in our nation’s capital. The federal government has failed miserably at controlling the border. Crossing America’s Southern border is easier than crossing most streets in L.A. Millions have done it, and millions more will if we don’t take action.
First, I’ve urged President Clinton to seek assistance from the Mexican government to help stop the flood of illegal immigrants on the Mexican side of our border. The ratification of NAFTA is a golden opportunity to secure the cooperation of the Mexican government in our shared responsibility to prevent illegal immigration. But controlling the border alone isn’t enough. In fact, there’s little point in even having a Border Patrol if we’re going to continue to reward those who successfully violate U.S. law and enter our country illegally.
Today, the federal government forces the states to give health care, education, and other benefits to illegal aliens. These mandated services cost California taxpayers nearly $3 billion a year. That’s $3 billion we must cut from the services we provide legal residents of California. Saving just the $1 billion we spend educating illegal immigrants in California schools would allow us to put a new computer on every fifth grader’s school desk; provide preschool services to an additional 67,000 four-year-olds; expand Healthy Start Centers to an additional 750 sites; and provide 12.5 million tutorial and mentoring hours to at-risk youth.
Because depriving legal California residents of these services is wrong, I’m also urging Congress to repeal the federal mandates that require states to provide health care, education, and other benefits to illegal immigrants. The President and Congress should pay for these mandates as long as they require the states to provide them. But what they should really do is repeal them, or they will simply encourage and reward continued illegal immigration. Congress should create a tamper-proof legal resident eligibility card and require it of everyone seeking government benefits.
Finally, we must fundamentally rethink the very foundation of our immigration laws. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution has been interpreted as granting citizenship to every child born on American soil, even to children whose parents are illegal aliens. Some illegals come to our country simply to have a child born on American soil who can then gain American citizenship and a host of public benefits. Just since 1988, the number of children of illegal aliens on our state’s welfare rolls has grown more than fourfold.
Of course, the clear purpose of the 14th Amendment when it was adopted three years after the Civil War was to validate the citizenship rights of former slaves and their children. It was never intended to be a reward for illegal immigration. It’s time to amend the Constitution so that citizenship belongs only to the children of legal residents of the United States.
President Clinton did not create the grave problem of illegal immigration; he inherited it. But this exclusively federal responsibility now belongs to him and to Congress. They must move without delay to enact these critical reforms to our nation’s immigration laws. There is no time to waste, because the problem grows every day, swelled by the thousands of illegal aliens who slip across the border every night. We need immigration reform, and we need it now.