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In Our Backyards 

When debating the new immigration law, think about what Arizonans have to go through.

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Imagine you live in Arizona, and you are an ordinary, law-abiding citizen. Your home is near the border of Mexico; your spouse and children reside in your home. Imagine that one day, you observe a group of 10 young men entering your backyard, rummaging through your patio furniture, trampling your flowerbeds, handling your garden tools, lawnmower or barbecue equipment. Or maybe the group is simply strolling through your yard. You may think, first, to call the police. You may just yell at them to leave your property.

Now imagine replaying that scene each day, each week for as long as Arizona has been battling illegal immigration. Imagine the thousands of illegal immigrants who enter Arizona unrestricted year after year.

It would be perfectly logical for you to be upset, afraid and angry wondering how you can somehow stop the illegal traffic you observe sneaking through your backyard.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Arizona was estimated to have more than 460,000 undocumented immigrants among a population of 6.5 million residents in 2009. Estimates vary for illegal immigrants residing in the United States from 13.9 million to 20 million. An estimated 78 illegal immigrants enter Arizona each day. California is by far the state with the highest number of undocumented immigrants residing within its borders an estimated 2.5 million of them.

Title 8 of the United States Code, the Immigration and Nationality Act and other amending statutes, require proper identification of legal immigrants. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is charged with enforcing the laws that provide for the security of the U.S. border and combating criminal smuggling.

As you sit in your home watching illegal immigrants enter the United States each day for years without restriction, you might imagine that one day some illegal immigrant might knock on your door and frighten your family or enter your home when you’re not there. A recent report in Washington state documented illegal immigrants who committed crimes against Washington state residents and then were deported to Mexico only to return again to commit other crimes.

What steps might you take to safeguard your home and family? If you’re law-abiding, you have every right to assume the federal government will fulfill its responsibility to guard the U.S. border and stop the flow of illegal immigrants. If it doesn’t, you’ll probably call your congressman, senator or state officials, imploring them to “do something!”

If you’re from Arizona, you’re probably a lot like the 70 percent of all Arizonans who support the actions of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who, on April 23, 2010, signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. SB 1070 was adopted to enforce federal laws that prohibit illegal immigration and assure border security. If you’re not racist, but just frightened about the security of your home from illegals you don’t know, you want the law to:

Require federal-state cooperation in enforcement of immigration laws.
Prosecute illegal immigrants.
Prohibit human trafficking of illegal immigrants.
Allow police officers to arrest an illegal immigrant if that immigrant is discovered to be illegal pursuant to a lawful arrest.
Prosecute and enforce laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

If that’s how you feel, you probably don’t like President Obama, safe in the White House with federal officials guarding him and his family 24-7, telling you that the Arizona law is automatically unconstitutional and fosters “racial profiling.” Two of his top officials testified in Congress against the law when, by their own admission, they hadn’t even read it. And you really don’t like Mexico’s president coming onto U.S. soil lecturing Americans about Arizona’s law, when, by his own admission, Mexico has no patience with illegals entering Mexico from its southern border.

The United States remains a magnet for people worldwide who seek a better life, economic opportunity and freedom. An estimated 100 million first-generation Americans have settled in our country since its founding. In 2008, a record 1.046 million immigrants won their United States’ citizenship with just over 14,000 of them coming to Washington state alone.

Citizenship in a nation is precious. Naturalized citizens must take an exam to be admitted to U.S. citizenship. They must learn about the values, principles and history of their new country to which they pledge allegiance. (I list 50 sample citizenship test questions in my new book, In Tune With America: Our History in Song).

Naturalized citizens shed tears at their immigration ceremonies they are now proud to be called “Americans” because they have earned their citizenship. Those here illegally aren’t Americans they’re illegals. We’d like them to be legal, to be part of the dream our forefathers envisioned as they built a country around citizenship and the obligations all of us have as Americans.

My heart goes out to illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. for a better life. God bless them as human beings. But their best path to the blessings of liberty is not by sneaking in through the backyards of Arizona, but by entering the old-fashioned way legally and with proper purpose.

No president should “justify” illegality by not enforcing federal laws and thereby diminishing those courageous souls from around the world whose path to citizenship was faithful and lawful. Praise for Arizona’s courage to call out those who would ignore the proper path to American freedom and opportunity.

George Nethercutt served the 5th District of Washington as a Republican in Congress between 1995-2005. His column appears in The Inlander once a month. Send comments totheeditor@inlander.com.

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