THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS ago, I first arrived in America owning nothing but a dream.
I had few friends, little money and knew even less English. But of this I was certain: Here was a land where I could go as far and as fast as my dreams and my desire would take me. Now, nearly 40 years later, my immigrant dream has come true. And thanks to my journey, I bring a unique perspective to the immigration discussion. I don’t just talk about immigrants -- I am an immigrant.
A few days ago, huge crowds assembled in California and proclaimed: “Aqui estamos.” I say to each one of them: Yes, we are here. Now we must ask: Where do we go from here?
As our nation begins a national debate on immigration, I propose that we lower our voices and lift our sights. We need a debate that attacks the issue without attacking individuals. And we need a comprehensive new law that respects immigrants and protects our nation. Frankly, the debate in Congress thus far has focused too much on politics and too little on principles. Ever since I first ran for office, I’ve talked about the importance of having a comprehensive immigration policy. Now the moment has arrived.
Our goal should be to create a policy that reflects our national motto: e pluribus unum -- Out of many, one. Here are the basic immigration principles that have always guided me and that I believe should guide Congress.
First, immigration is about our security. The first order of business for the federal government is to secure our borders. And Washington simply must do a better job of it. We learned on 9/11 that not all those who cross our borders want to share in the American dream. A few want to replace it with a nightmare. If we don’t know who is coming over our borders, we won’t know what they might do. And in a post-Sept. 11 world, that is a risk we cannot take. Congress must strengthen our borders.
That’s why as governor of California, I have supported legislation to end human trafficking and stop the issuance of driver’s licenses to those who aren’t legal residents. By bringing folks out of the shadows and into the light, we help immigrants, and we help America.
Criminalizing immigrants for coming here is a slogan, not a solution. Instead, I urge Congress to get tough on those illegal immigrants who are a danger to society. If an illegal immigrant commits a serious crime, he must leave the country -- one strike and you’re out. No excuses, no delays.
Second, immigration is about our economy. The freest nation in the world, and the freest economy in history, depend on a free flow of people. Immigrants are here to work and contribute. I support efforts to ensure that our businesses have the workers they need and that immigrants are treated with the respect they deserve. We should pass a common-sense temporary worker program so that every person in our nation is documented.
We can embrace the immigrant without endorsing illegal immigration. Granting citizenship to people who are here illegally is not just amnesty ... it’s anarchy. We are a country of immigrants, yes. But we are also a nation of laws. People who want to be citizens will want to do it the right way.
Finally, immigration is about our values. Too often the debate centers on what immigrants owe us. Too seldom do we ask what we owe them. Above all, we owe it to our country and our immigrants to share our values. We should talk about our history, our institutions and our beliefs. We should assimilate immigrants into the mainstream. We want immigrants to not just live in America but to live as Americans.
Marine Lance Cpl. O.J. Santa Maria is a fine example of this. He is an immigrant who was living in Daly City, Calif., when he enlisted in the Marines. During the Iraq war, he was severely wounded. Because of his military service, he was granted citizenship. When the oath of citizenship was read to him, he stood up from his wheelchair in pain and in tears. “It’s for the respect,” he said later when asked why he stood. “I’m taking an oath to the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Lance Cpl. Santa Maria wanted to be an American, and we should be glad he became one. We are a better nation because of this immigrant Marine.
As a river gains strength and momentum from joining waters, so America is blessed and enriched by new people and new energy. But we still need a new immigration law to properly channel the flow. And we need a comprehensive approach based in reality, not rhetoric.
This is the time for a permanent solution to our broken immigration system. This is the chance to again become a country of immigrants and a nation of laws.