Community Commentary: Amnesty for illegal immigrants not the answer

Editor's note: This corrects the headline.

In a recent speech, President Barack Obama called the border between the United States and Mexico "secure." He offered an illegal immigration reform plan that gives amnesty to those currently here illegally after they meet a few requirements, and wants to allow non-resident high school students the opportunity to gain legal status by going to college or serving in the military.

I couldn't disagree more.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem in California. Of the 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the United States, 2.6 million live in California. Overall, illegal immigrants cost California taxpayers over $10.5 billion annually. Just the cost to imprison illegal immigrants is $1.1 billion a year. At a time when the state is struggling to balance its budget and each and every program is on the chopping block, taxpayers cannot afford these costs.

The president's claim that the border is secure is ridiculous. A closer look at our prison system, for example, shows that the number of illegal immigrants in our jails and prisons continues to rise. As of 2009, there were 102,795 illegal immigrants incarcerated in California, a 17% increase since 2003. More than one in four is behind bars because of drug offenses such as using, distributing and smuggling.

If the president truly believes the border is secure, then why won't the federal government pay the costs of housing illegals in our prison systems? For that matter, why doesn't the state of California demand it?

In 2008, Republicans brought forth AB 39, which would have required the secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to demand in writing that the United States attorney general take federal custody of any undocumented criminal alien incarcerated in California's correctional system and, if the federal government did not comply with the demand, then the secretary shall annually bill the federal government for the costs of incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens. In a Legislature dominated by Democrats, this bill did not even make it out of committee as it was defeated on a party-line vote.

When introducing his plan, the president made the valid point that the incentives to cross the border illegally must end. Still, Democrats in the Legislature continue to ignore the costs of illegal immigration and continue to pass bills incentivizing people to cross our border illegally.

Earlier this month, Democrats approved AB 130, the so-called "California Dream Act." This bill allows non-citizens to qualify for student loans. This is on top of legislation passed several years ago allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition while those from Nevada, Arizona or any of the other 47 states have to pay much higher fees. Another bill moving through the Legislature, AB 1081, is designed to stop cooperation with the federal program ICE so that the agency could no longer identify illegal immigrants through fingerprinting. In recent years, legislative Democrats have passed bills allowing illegals to obtain driver's licenses, receive prenatal care and forbid landlords from asking about immigration status before renting to a potential tenant.

I don't blame anyone for coming to America in search of a better life. But it has to be done through the proper legal channels. Granting amnesty, as President Obama would like to do, is not the answer. Passing laws on the federal and state level that act as a magnet to induce more people to illegally cross the border is irresponsible. California is facing its 10th straight year of multibillion-dollar deficits, and we cannot keep allowing illegals to come into our state and receive our services for free.

The time to secure the border is now.

JIM SILVA is an assemblyman covering the 67th District, which includes Huntington Beach.

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