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Illegal Immigration:
Security First, Amnesty Never

Column by Sen. Trent Lott     Filed 6/1/06  GCN

   I was in a minority of 36 Senators voting against the Senate’s immigration reform plan.  As written, it’s a bad bill that’s basically an amnesty program for illegal aliens, encouraging more illegal immigration and requiring little additional border security.  The stricter House immigration reform bill is better, and now the Senate and House must broker a compromise that secures our border first and then provides a practical, enforceable plan for temporary workers.

Like most Mississippians, I’ve been incensed by the way many illegal aliens have approached this debate, protesting in the streets, waving foreign flags and making demands of American taxpayers.  I suspect this is one reason Americans overwhelmingly favor the House approach over that of the Senate and the Bush Administration.

Americans are not opposed to immigration, but we are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration which skirts the law and makes a farce of our borders.  More than anything else, Americans see this as a question of national sovereignty and security.   We can talk about the economic and cultural effects of illegal immigration and the financial burdens illegal aliens place upon American taxpayers, but the overriding issue is security. Americans want to know who is coming across our border, and they want those who would harm us kept away.

First, the huge disparity between the respective House and Senate bills means it will be tough for the two bodies to reach a compromise.  It will be a sausage making process that won’t be pretty.  Chances are, not everyone’s palate will be pleased with the final flavor.  But despite the difficult circumstances and painstaking process, Americans want to see a better bill.

Since the security of our border is where there is the most agreement, we should tackle border security first, then work out a tightly constructed temporary worker program – no amnesty and no expedited citizenship. 

An overwhelming majority of Americans know that strengthening our border, particularly the Southern border, is the key to curbing illegal immigration.  Without border security in place, any plan regarding temporary workers is futile.  Until we fully commit all resources necessary to secure our border and enforce our existing immigration laws, we encourage our enemies and show dangerous weakness before the world.  In fact, weak southern borders have already gotten us into one war. 

Back in 1917, American and British intelligence exposed a proposition by Germany to help Mexico invade the United States and capture Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  The threats presented by the “Zimmerman Telegram,” named for the German minister who authored it, greatly angered Americans and was one reason we entered World War I.

We should take a lesson from history.  Like Zimmerman, but far more cruel and dangerous, America’s terrorist enemies today know our southern border is still a vulnerable, soft underbelly.  Is it going to take something like a Bin Laden tape urging his fanatical followers over the border to convince us that America’s security is at risk?  Every minute we go without tougher border security, we’re inviting a terrorist incursion.

Despite the terrorist threat and Washington’s tin ear on immigration reform, I’m actually optimistic.  The American people are well aware of our border insecurity, and they’ve been more vocal about this than any issue in recent memory.  Their demand of Congress is very strong but very simple:   Do what it takes to secure America’s borders.  National security has always been our government’s top priority, and it’s Congress’ job to get it done despite the toughest circumstances.  Security first – that’s what Americans want.  That’s what Washington should provide. 

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email

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