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Published: Saturday, 4/8/2006

Securing our borders

SUSIE Morales lives on a ranch west of Nogales, Ariz. When she cooks supper, she keeps a rifle on the kitchen table, because her home has been broken into so often.

Susie used to offer food and water to illegal aliens crossing her property, but can't any more because what was once a trickle is now a flood, she told Leo Banks, who wrote about her and other south Arizona ranchers in National Review Online.

Stories like Susie's illustrate why there is so much anger in the debate on illegal immigration.

There are between 11 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. At the low end, that's equivalent to the population of Michigan. At the upper, Ohio.

The first responsibility of nationhood is to provide security at the borders. The leaders of both political parties have failed us grotesquely. Worse, they seem not to care.

As Michael Barone said: "The immigration issue shows us to be an attractive country with a vibrant economy and a government that seems on the verge of breakdown."

The other major feature of the immigration debate - dishonesty - was on display in the massive demonstrations held in Los Angeles and other cities the weekend of March 25-26 to protest the House-passed bill on border security.

The news media described these as rallies for "immigrant rights," but civil rights leader Joe Hicks demurs:

"Many Latino immigrant-rights organizers seem to be saying there is some inherent right being expressed when people sneak into the country, thumb their noses at the law, and make fools of those who wait patiently in foreign lands for visas to come to the United States," Mr. Hicks wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "What we are witnessing is not the birth of a new civil rights movement but the attempt to render meaningless the concept of border controls."

There were more Mexican than American flags at these rallies, but most were, figuratively speaking, airbrushed out of news photos. Nor did most in the media mention these rallies were organized largely by radicals who hope to detach the Southwest from the United States and restore it to Mexico.

"If many thousands of illegal aliens marched in their zeal, many more millions of Americans of all different races and backgrounds watched - and seethed," wrote Victor Davis Hanson. "They were struck by the spectacle of illegal alien residents lecturing citizen hosts on what was permissible in their own country."

A debate dominated on the right by anger and on the left by dishonesty is unlikely to produce a happy result. We need to take a deep breath, let passions cool, and face facts squarely.

The first and most important step is to gain control of our borders. With one glaring exception, the House bill is right on, as far as it goes. This includes the provision to build a fence along 700 miles of our 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

Barriers work, especially when they are covered by fire, or in this case, by observation. The Israeli wall has sharply reduced terror attacks within Israel.

The nutty provision in the House bill is the one that would make just being an illegal immigrant a felony.

A sign carried by many demonstrators read: "somos illegales, no somos criminales" (we're illegals, not criminals). To many Americans, this is a distinction without a difference.

It isn't. The mere fact of being here means illegals have broken the law. But the vast majority are no more criminals than you are, just because you got a speeding ticket.

The overwhelming majority of illegals are decent, hard-working people. Though the importance of immigrant labor to our economy is exaggerated by advocates of guest worker programs, most contribute more than they take.

George Will noted it would take a line of buses stretching from San Diego to Alaska to deport 11 million people.

To devote the resources required to round up all those who pick fruit and clean houses would be like telling the police to forget about murderers and rapists and crack down on overdue parking tickets. That would be insane.

And immoral, said the Web logger the Anchoress:

"We have to think long and hard about what it means to gather people at gunpoint and put them on trains to send them to a place they do not want to go," she said. "That cannot be America, if she is to survive."

The logical thing would be to combine the enforcement provisions of the House bill with the path to legalization provided by the Senate bill. But logic is hard to come by in Washington these days, especially in an election year.



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