05/20/07 — Being here: Citizenship ought to mean something

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Being here: Citizenship ought to mean something

After months of doing nothing but talking, the nation’s lawmakers have finally decided to get off dead-center on the issue of immigration — specifically what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants who are currently in the U.S.

And while the new bipartisan immigration bill that has been touted this week in Congress has many of the hallmarks of legislation that might actually address the issue, the same old problems are there as Americans from all over the country try to figure out what the best answer is to this perplexing problem.

There are a myriad of reasons that illegal immigration and its consequences cause such a stir among Americans from all walks of life. First, if you live in a border state, the costs and problems associated with thousands of Mexicans and others crossing illegally into your state are obvious to you every day. You pay more for health care, education and other services that must be offered to illegal immigrants — and you worry about such issues as documentation, jobs and potential for crime and other concerns.

If you are in an interior state, you pay, too. The costs of providing services and the need to address the issue are topics of conversation in every statehouse and on the campaign trail, too.

The new plan includes the opportunity for those who are in this country illegally to apply to become real citizens. They must first acknowledge that they are here, pay fines, wait their turn and study English and American civics in preparation for becoming viable members of American society. They also must be free of a criminal record and have an employment history.

That is a positive step in the right direction.

Demanding that citizenship have some value is critical if this nation is going to remain the home of the free and a beacon of hope for those who are seeking new lives.

Forcing those who have broken the rules to pay a consequence and then to adhere to a standard is not only wise, it is fair and just and addresses a problem that cannot be solved by simply handing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants their walking papers.

But if new immigration legislation is going to work, there must be a part two.

New rules for those who are already here are fine, but not stopping the tide of illegal immigration at the U.S.’s sieve-like borders will only ensure that this is an issue this nation will be dealing with for generations to come.

And that is not fair to those who want to be citizens, but who must wait years because they chose to follow the rules. They need to move to the head of the line. That should be the standard in the future — no exceptions.

So, if you are already here illegally and meet the criteria, this is your lucky day.

But if you come in later and don’t follow the rules, you should expect to be sent home — immediately. And if the new immigration legislation does not address that concern, it is nothing more than more politician speak.

And we certainly do not need any more of that.

Published in Editorials on May 20, 2007 12:00 AM