"The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” While I served in Iraq, my job was the Chief of Surgery at Abu Ghraib hospital. Our job was to take care of our own men and women in uniform as well as the enemy. We often relied on translators to communicate. They risked their lives and the lives of their families by helping us. The Iraqi insurgency viewed them as the worst kind of enemy; a traitor. They served alongside us with no promise of citizenship or entry to the United States. They did so because they believed it was the right thing to do. In my opinion, they have more than earned entry to the United States, so I proudly served as a special immigrant visa sponsor for those who sought safety and freedom in our country.
Fortunately, for most immigrants, the cost of entry to our nation is far lower. Indeed, we are a nation that welcomes the world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses, and we should continue to do so. But we should not reward those who do not follow our nation’s laws and cut the line by entering our country illegally.
When asked about recent headlines on illegal immigration, a Russian immigrant who followed the legal channels to enter the United States remarked, “Those who violated U.S. laws to get here, arrived through acts of disrespect for this country. Why do these people get to go ahead of me?”
We are fortunate to live in a country that is so generous, but we also must not lose sight of our sense of fairness. Why are we insisting that law-abiding citizens travel to embassies, wait, complete applications and pay the resulting fees, and in some cases attorney fees, while we permit others to simply cross our border?
There is no doubt, our legal immigration system is broken. I saw this firsthand as I struggled to help my translators navigate the visa process. We need to fix our immigration system. The cheapest and most convenient way to become an American is by illegally entering our country. Some excuse this by saying our immigration process is too cumbersome. It is true that our legal immigration system needs reform, but we will never come up with an orderly legal system of immigration that is easier than process-free illegal entry.
Even 100 years ago, our immigration system required order. I still have the papers from when my grandfathers and great-grandfathers came to the United States from Italy. Immigration officials recorded height, weight, physical state, city and country of origin. They were also required to sign pledges that they were not anarchists or polygamists, and pledge their fidelity to the United States.
This documentation might seem burdensome, but the reality is we need to know who is entering our country. We have a responsibility to protect our nation and its citizens. We must ensure that those entering our country are here to do good, not evil, and that they are not importing illicit drugs or criminal connections.
Of course, skipping this process will always be easier. That’s the allure of an open or unsecure border. Unless we have secure borders to prevent illegal entry, illegal immigrants will continue pouring over our borders instead of following the legal routes. We cannot expect any legal system to work if we do not have border control and management. Any fixes to the legal immigration system, such as improvements to widely-used guest-worker visa programs, would surely be undercut by those unfairly entering our nation illegally.
I am grateful to live in a nation where more people want to come in, not out. However, open or unsecure borders put the lawless ahead of those who play by the rules. A secure border encourages people to go through the process the right way, but it is also basic fairness to those who have respected our nation’s laws.