For a long time, our federal government failed to protect our borders from unlawful migration. One result of this failure is an underclass of children brought here unlawfully by their parents. These children, mostly Mexican, are raised in our country; they have learned our language, studied our history, and are educated in our schools. The influences in our society that shape the values of all American children shape the values of these children.
When these undocumented children graduate from high school, they are confronted with a harsh reality; there is no future for them here in America or in the country where they were born. Although they did not choose to enter America unlawfully, they are branded as lawbreakers who should be deported. Though America is the only home they have ever known, they are told they must return to a land that is foreign to them.
How should our country deal with these young adults when they graduate from high school? One proposal would allow those who meet certain requirements and either attend college or serve in the military to remain lawfully in our country. Opponents argue that to provide any pathway to legal status will reward the unlawful conduct of the parents and are unfair to families who abide by the rules and wait patiently to enter lawfully the United States. Our sense of fairness should tell us that it is not right to punish children for the sins of their parents; a value that is the basis of a provision in our Constitution, which limits punishment of the children of parents who commit treason against the United States.
We are a nation of laws, and the sovereign has a duty to its citizens to protect our borders, particularly in a post-911 world. This will require a comprehensive plan that ensures border security, enhances workplace enforcement, and updates our VISA program to meet better our economic needs. The plan will also have to address the millions of undocumented immigrants who chose to break the law in pursuit of a better life, and the tens of thousands of children who did not make that choice, but who, too, are in America enjoying a better life.
The focus of immigration reform should be on pursuing security and promoting our economy. However, we should endeavor to find a solution consistent with our values of fairness and compassion for those who do follow the law and those innocents who had no choice.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and the former Counsel to President George W. Bush. He is currently the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University, Of Counsel at the Nashville law firm of Waller Lansden, and a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.