Securing our borders must be first step

Posted on June 5, 2007

My first priority in this immigration bill is border security and the rule of law. I am tired of telling Tennesseans that Congress can't agree on a way to stop one million people a year from coming into our country illegally. But I had to vote against last year's bill because it did not secure our borders. This new bill has a chance to succeed because Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson suggested, "Why don't we secure the borders first, and then do everything else?" So that is the way this bill is written. The first part would build fences and barriers, add border agents, buy surveillance systems and establish an employer verification system. Putting all that into place -- over 2 to 5 years -- would then trigger the rest of the bill, the so-called "Isakson trigger." This immigration mess has been building for years. When I ran for president in 1996, I proposed a new branch of the military to secure the border. But Congress has gone home every year saying the problem is too complicated to fix. So now we have this intolerable situation: 12 million people illegally here and one million more coming every year. After border security, the other biggest problem is what to do about those already here illegally. I voted last week to send the bill drafters back to the drawing board on this issue. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and I will offer an amendment requiring illegal immigrants who want to work here to return to their home countries and re-enter through legal channels -- in addition to paying a fine and passing a criminal background check. An immigration bill should also be about the 650,000 citizens who come here legally year year. This week, I'll offer several amendments to help these individuals learn English and what it means to be an American, to codify the oath of allegiance and to make English our national language. All last week I have been in Tennessee listening to immigration concerns. Each day I post on my Web site ( how I vote on amendments and why. If Congress can enact legislation securing our border, we should then within 30 days also appropriate the money to pay for it. Americans have lost faith that Washington will enforce immigration laws. A strong, new border security law with money behind it would be a first step in restoring that confidence. Lamar Alexander was sworn in as a U.S. senator from Tennessee in January 2003. He also is a former governor of Tennessee.