Robert Bennett: Immigration reform should demonstrate 'love of neighbor'

Published: Monday, April 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama meets with faith leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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After meeting at the While House with other faith leaders, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church supported the idea of immigration reform. For some, this re-ignited the debate on the issue. I do not write to defend President Uchtdorf — he is more than capable of doing that himself — but simply to provide a few facts.

To those who say he advocates breaking the law, I say, “No.” What he favors is changing it. Seeking to change a law with which one disagrees is an age-old American custom, fully protected — indeed, encouraged — by our Constitution. Utah is filled with people who are currently seeking to do that to Obamacare.

To those who insist that there must be no changes in immigration law until after we secure the border, I say, “Check the record.” Start with 2007, the year when President George W. Bush first proposed immigration reform. I voted for it because I recognized that Bush, as governor of the state with our longest border with Mexico, had lived and wrestled with the problem throughout his entire term of office. In my eyes, that made him more qualified to deal with the subject than the talk show hosts who had observed it from the isolation of their broadcast booths. Nonetheless, the cry of “secure the border first” carried the day and the bill was defeated. The federal government then started pouring money into increased border security.

When I left the Senate in 2010, we had spent more than $4 billion on it and much more has been added since. This is one of the reasons why border violations are now a trickle of what they once were. That may be why Orrin Hatch, who voted against immigration reform in 2007, was willing to support it in 2013. Those advocating a “step by step” approach should acknowledge the fact that the first step they are demanding has already been successfully taken.

To those who insist that we can eliminate all the illegal aliens currently here if we “just enforce the law,” I say, “Really?” No one knows the exact number of foreign nationals living here without proper status, but most estimates are in the range of 12 to 13 million. That’s four times the population of the state of Utah and eight times the population of all state and federal prisons combined. With all the other challenges and demands on our tax dollars that we have in our country, do you really believe we could create a police force large enough to round up, interrogate and deport over 4 percent of our population?

To those who oppose immigration reform because they believe in the rule of law, I say, “So do I.” That’s why I am for reform. Any law that is unenforceable, as this one obviously is, breeds contempt for all laws. If we replace it with a system that requires foreign nationals who entered the U.S. illegally to pay fines for having done so and then, if they have broken no other laws, allows them to stay in a legal capacity thereafter, the law would be far easier to enforce and thus breed respect for it. Most illegal aliens currently here are not murderers, drug dealers or welfare cheats; they are productive members of society. We should allow them to make amends for the past misdemeanor either they or their parents committed when they came.

In addition to being good policy, such a system would also demonstrate the “love of neighbor” of which President Uchtdorf spoke so eloquently when visiting President Barack Obama.

Robert Bennett, former U.S. senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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