Opinions and Speeches

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 -

Security of our borders must come first

April 11, 2006

Security of our borders must come first
By U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson
(As appeared in the Columbus Ledger Enquirer)

For the past two weeks, the Senate has been debating the most important domestic issue facing our nation today: immigration reform. When I was running for Senate in 2004, illegal immigration was second only to the war on terror of the issues people asked me about on the campaign trail. Since I was elected, it's the issue people are still asking me about more than any other. It doesn't matter where I visit in Georgia . North, south, east or west, people around my state and around the nation want to know what Congress is going to do about illegal immigration.

Everyone agrees we have a serious problem. There are as many as 12 million people in the U.S. illegally. Our school systems are stretched. Our healthcare systems are strained. Our states are challenged every day on how to deal with the repercussions of a problem the federal government has looked the other way on for too long.  

Make no mistake about it. Illegal immigration is a federal problem. It is a crisis the federal government must solve. However, there's plenty disagreement throughout both parties and both chambers about what is the best solution to solving the problem of illegal immigration.   

I firmly believe though that this is not a chicken or the egg issue. Before we address any other issues dealing with illegal immigration, we must secure our borders. It is not only a matter of law. It is a matter of national security. I have offered an amendment on immigration reform that would prohibit the implementation of any new guest worker program until significant border security enhancements are made. Right now, the Senate is too focused on guest worker programs and not enough on border security. Senate Democrats have even gone so far as to block up-or-down votes on my amendment and others that address the need to secure the border. I will oppose any legislation that fails to incorporate measures to secure our borders first before any new guest worker program is implemented.  Failing to do that will bring a repeat of 1986, when amnesty was granted to 3 million illegal immigrants without enhancing border security first. The result was that millions more immigrants have flooded into the United States illegally and now are straining our schools, our hospitals and our local jails.

In February, I led a Congressional delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to see our illegal immigration problem firsthand. I also wanted to talk to the men and women protecting our border on the ground and find out what resources they need to do the job. In Arizona , I was able to view the one and only unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Customs and Border Protection. This one vehicle is flown along the border and can detect individuals trying to come across the border illegally. The border protection agents then use the signals from this detection system to catch these illegal immigrants and to stop them from entering the U.S.

I observed firsthand the fantastic progress we're making in securing our borders. And the keys to this progress include increased manpower, equipment and technology for the entire 2,000 miles of our southern border.

Above all we must increase our eyes in the sky. I have introduced legislation that includes more than $450 million to acquire and maintain a squadron of at least 25 unmanned aerial vehicles with high-tech sensors and satellite communication. This would allow coverage on the border by an unmanned vehicle 24 hours a day, and it would dramatically increase the effectiveness of our men and women on the ground.  

We are a nation of immigrants, and we should honor every legal immigrant who is here and encourage them to become citizens. However, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps now to secure our borders, enforce legal immigration and see to it there are consequences for bad behavior.  

Johnny Isakson, a Republican, is Georgia 's junior U.S. senator.