IF IT WERE a secret, it might have made it on a David Letterman list of the Top 10 Worst Kept Secrets in Georgia ... if such a thing existed.
The fact is, I'm a fan of President George W. Bush. But that cat, as they say, has been out of the bag for quite a while. As commander in chief, I believe President Bush has truly been the right man at the right time for our nation over these past three challenging years.
Does that mean I agree with him on everything? Heck no. I've said plenty of times before that my wife and I are in complete agreement only about 90 percent of the time! So there were bound to be and continue to be areas where I take issue with the president.
WHEN PRESIDENT Bush recently announced his proposal to grant legal status to millions of individuals living and working in America illegally, one of those areas came to light.
The president is right about one thing: our immigration system is an absolute mess. Depending on whom you believe, there are somewhere between 8- to 12-million illegal aliens living in America today. It's a staggering number that has steadily risen over the last two decades and costs each of us through its impact on our educational system, hospitals and prisons, among other areas of our society.
Georgia has been far from immune to the problem. According to figures released early last year by the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of illegal aliens living in our state grew by roughly 600 percent, up to 228,000, between 1996 and 2000.
So, what do we do?
Well first, I believe the only way we can get a handle on our immigration problem is to correct the one piece of the puzzle that poses the greatest threat and risk to all of us - the criminal alien crisis.
AS I'VE WRITTEN before, there are 80,000 criminal aliens (murderers, rapists, and pedophiles among them) who have served jail time and should have been deported after paying their debt to society. Instead, these 80,000 individuals have been released back onto our streets by law enforcement because the system our federal government has provided to do the job is inefficient, unaccountable, and just plain outmanned.
Last summer, along with fellow U.S. Reps. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., Allen Boyd, D-Fla., and Melissa Hart, R-Pa., I introduced a bipartisan bill that would change all of this. The bill, called simply the CLEAR Act (Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003), would clarify that local and state law enforcement officials have the authority to enforce immigration laws during the course of their everyday duties.
FURTHERMORE, THE bill gives them the training, access to data, and resources they need to get the job done. And if the federal government doesn't live up to its end of the bargain by picking up and deporting criminal aliens after they've served their time, the CLEAR Act allows local municipalities to hold the federal government accountable.
Getting back to the president's proposal, the tried and true medical adage, "First, do no harm," comes to mind. Sadly, harm is exactly what granting "guest worker" legal status to people living and working here illegally would deliver. While the administration has gone to great lengths to point out this proposal technically isn't amnesty, the truth is, if it isn't amnesty, it's amnesty's first cousin.
In one fell swoop, a proposal such as this would send the absolute wrong message to the millions of immigrants who have gone to extraordinary lengths to become naturalized citizens of America legally, encourage more aliens to enter our nation illegally by creating an ultimate reward, further threaten our nation's homeland security, and potentially exacerbate the growing class of illegal and uneducated workers who will never fully realize the American dream.
HISTORY TELLS us this is the wrong remedy.
In 1986, the federal government granted amnesty to almost 3 million illegal aliens in hopes the problem would be resolved. But the real problem, the inability to enforce our nation's immigration laws already on the books, was never addressed.
Eighteen years and up to 12 million illegal aliens later, we now know the decision in 1986 was a wrong turn and only made a bad situation worse. Doing the same in 2004 would be like throwing a match on a powder keg - not a particularly good idea.
As Congress prepares to get back to work this month, there's no roadmap for what direction this debate will take. But this much I do know - before any discussion can take place on Capitol Hill regarding proposals like the president's, this country absolutely has to address the criminal alien crisis.
PASSING THE CLEAR Act and finally giving local and state law enforcement the support they deserve and getting the 80,000 criminal aliens off our streets - now that's a good idea and one I'll be working hard on over the coming months.
(Editor's note: The writer is the U.S. representative for Georgia's 9th Congressional District.)