Senator John McGee [Idaho State Senate; sponsor of a bill to block illegal immigrants from using most taxpayer-financed public assistance programs]: "We are a nation of immigrants. Legal immigrants have played, and continue to play, an integral and welcome role in our country's growth and development.
But the key word is "legal."
In the last 15 years, "illegal immigration" has become a baffling problem that puts enormous financial and social pressure on states all over the nation, including Idaho.
Of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that two-thirds have been in the United States for 10 years or less — and 40% of those (4.4 million people) have been in the country for less than 5 years.
Our systems of welfare, education, law enforcement, health care, and employment benefits are being stretched not only to provide help for tax-paying citizens, but also to absorb the demands of people who have broken the law to enter the country, and then break the law again by accessing support programs to which they have no legal entitlement.
The federal government has had little success in stopping the flood of illegal immigrants into this country. But once the illegal immigrants have broken the law and entered the country, the states — not the federal government — must pay for benefits like welfare education, health care, and law enforcement.
This federal failure to solve the illegal immigration problem thus has imposed a de facto "unfunded federal mandate" on states.
It's time for states to address the illegal immigration problem on their own level. In fact, many already are doing that. Last year, 30 states passed some 57 laws to crack down on illegal immigrants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That flurry of legislation reflects states' mounting frustration with federal inaction.
Now Idaho has begun taking action to protect the education, health care, employment and legal systems that are paid for by and designed to help our citizens, not illegal immigrants.
Last December, then-Gov. Jim Risch issued an executive order directing state agencies to provide their services only to people who are lawfully entitled to work in Idaho. I've now introduced a bill that will write that same requirement into state law, and Gov. Butch Otter also backs action on the state level.
My legislative proposal will build on the federal standard known as "Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements" (SAVE). The SAVE program gives local/state governments and businesses the tools to verify that applicants are lawfully present in the United States before granting a variety of tax-supported benefits.
Simply put, if people can show proof of legal residency (such as an Idaho driver's license, a U.S. military ID, a passport, or a valid Social Security number), they can access the services they need.
Waiting on Congress to solve a problem can be a recipe for delay and frustration. Idaho must do what we can to address the illegal immigrant problem on our own state level.
Otherwise, the drain on taxpayer resources and services will simply continue and increase, eroding our ability to provide those services to people who are legally entitled to receive them."
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.